Here’s how EV batteries can be given a second life
According to the International Energy Agency, over 300 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the world’s roads by 2030. The American EV market, on the other hand, is small.
The United States will account for less than 10% of new global EV registrations in 2021, while China and Europe will account for 50% and 35%, respectively. China also accounts for more than 70% of global EV battery production capacity, implying that the United States is heavily reliant on battery and battery mineral imports.
“It has been clear since 2014 that China had a plan to lock up the bulk of the world’s production of battery minerals,” said John Voelcker, an EV analyst. “The world’s largest battery company is now in China.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory anticipates a 500% increase in demand for graphite, lithium, and cobalt, all critical minerals in EV batteries, by 2050. It is estimated that an EV battery will last 12 to 15 years in moderate climates.
“The degradation of an EV battery pack is one of the biggest questions of the industry,” said Lea Malloy, head of electric vehicle battery solutions at Cox Automotive Mobility.
“Every battery will reach the end of life. It’s important that these end-of-life packs are recycled, so they don’t end up where they don’t belong.”
With an estimated reuse lifetime of an EV battery ranging from five to thirty years, extending the life cycle could reduce the need for critical minerals mining.
“It’s fantastic that you can drive an electric vehicle, knowing that at the end-of-the life of that battery pack, the ingredients will be reused in a new battery pack and a new electric car and that we really want to play a role in,” said Dirk Spiers, founder and CEO of SNT.
SNT was established in 2014 with only two employees. Cox Automotive, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based media conglomerate Cox Enterprises, purchased it in 2021. The company now employs over 400 people and provides a “one-stop solution” for used and faulty EV batteries.
“We are like a diner of battery services,” said Spiers.
“You can come to us for a cup of coffee, but if you want to have a steak, a cup of soup or apple pie, we serve all these things.”
EV batteries are delivered directly to the company by the dealership or the original equipment manufacturer. It then runs the battery packs through Alfred, its diagnostic system. Alfred evaluates the battery pack’s condition to see if it can be used again in a vehicle. A pack can be repaired, remanufactured to original factory standards, refurbished, and upgraded to current factory standards. SNT will recycle it if it is truly at the end of its useful life.
“A couple of years ago there was a cost associated with recycling a lithium-ion battery pack. Now it is a positive,” he said.
“If you give me a lithium-ion battery pack, I probably will give you money back for it. And that’s the beauty of it. The intrinsic value of that battery pack is higher than the cost of recycling.”
In addition to its headquarters in Oklahoma City, SNT has offices in Las Vegas, Detroit, and the Netherlands, with plans to expand to the east coast and the United Kingdom. Right now, it claims that being centrally located in the United States is critical to its business model.
“We need to be where our customers are, being bang in the middle of the country helps. We can reach either coast between two and three days,” Spiers said.
The company wouldn’t say how many battery packs it can store, but it said it handles about 15,000 battery packs and modules per month on average.
“We get anything from, say, 50 to 100 battery packs per day. Probably 80, 90% can be refurbished. Recycling is maybe 5 to 10%. And the rest is repurposing, second life. But those numbers will fluctuate,” he said.
SNT claims to have serviced over 240 thousand packs since its inception, with over 50 thousand repaired, refurbished, or remanufactured.
“If you look at the EV market and take Tesla out, we probably have 60, 65, 70% of that market,” said Spiers.
“GM, Ford, Stellantis, Porsche, Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, Volvo we keep adding to the list.”
But why doesn’t it work with Tesla, the most well-known American EV manufacturer?
“They like to do their own stuff. You know, they’re a little bit like Apple,” he said.
“When I think about the future of EV battery recycling specifically, I see it as an increasingly competitive space,” Malloy said.
“At the same time, there is a bit of a mismatch of maybe more supply and capacity around EV battery recycling than demand. We’re just riding this first wave of electric vehicles that could be on the road for ten-plus years.”
With a finite supply of minerals required for EV batteries, could it reach a point of indefinite cycling and reuse?
“I think we will be mining metals for the balance of my lifetime,” said Voelcker.
“The hope is as batteries get more powerful, smaller, lighter and cheaper, with luck, we will need fewer metals.”
“Why would you get cobalt from Africa or lithium from South America, if you can get it here in Oklahoma City,” Spiers said.
“The circular economy is happening. It’s happening right now. It’s happening here in Oklahoma City. the volume is still small, but it will get bigger and bigger.”
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Content Credit: CNBC