A UK university has been tasked to look into ‘second-life’ applications for electric car batteries to reduce the huge environmental impact of existing disposal techniques.
Nottingham Trent University is part of a wider £4.5million research project to establish a process to recycle or reuse EV batteries.
This could help prevent up to nine million tons from being sent to landfill each year when the vehicles become mainstream.
A £582,000 grant has been awarded to the university’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing Engineering Centre as part of the European-wide ‘Rebellion’ project to understand more efficient ways for EV batteries to be reused or recycled.
UK university gets grant to help solve major electric vehicle problem: Recycling of EV batteries is a big issue that needs resolving before zero-emission cars become mainstream
NTU says that once lithium-ion battery capacity falls below 75 per cent, they are often considered no longer fit for purpose in passenger vehicles, meaning the batteries need to be replaced or scrapped.
It claims that reconditioning them can see these decommissioned batteries last another ten years in other applications.
However, research shows that the majority of batteries are currently being sent to landfill or incinerated, both of which have a huge detrimental impact on the environment.
Campaign group Friends of the Earth says current levels of lithium collection in the EU are particularly low.
It estimates that just 5 per cent of lithium-ion from electric vehicle batteries is currently being removed during a recycling process so it can be used elsewhere.
This means there’s is a huge waste of lithium resources, which are in huge demand today.
With the highest-mileage examples of ‘first generation’ electric vehicles sold from a decade ago already reaching their end of life, there’s a desperate need to find an alterative solution to disposing – or repurposing – their battery packs, the university said.
Campaigners at Friends of the Earth claim that just 5% of lithium-ion from electric vehicle batteries is removed during a recycling process
Professor Daizhong Su, head of ADMEC, said: ‘With the increased volume of electric vehicle batteries coming towards their end of life, it’s imperative that there’s a quick and accurate way to predict a battery’s future life in order to maximise second-life applications.
‘Recycling is the most environmentally-friendly way to deal with batteries after their second life and has the potential to turn them into a major economic resource in Europe, with a value of up to £23billion per year, as the raw materials they contain can be used for further manufacturing.
‘This is an exciting project which has the potential to make the electric vehicle industry even more sustainable and help prevent up to nine million tons of battery waste per year going to landfill by 2040.
‘We look forward to working with our partners to help create sustainable solutions for many of the future challenges of the electric vehicle industry.’
The Rebellion project is being supported by the European Horizon programme and incorporates 11 organisations from across Europe, including the midlands university.
NTU says reconditioning of electric vehicle batteries – deemed no longer fit for use in passenger cars – would see them last another ten years in other applications
There’s a number of targets the project wants to achieve with the millions of pounds in resources being put on the table.
The first is to develop technology that can quickly and effectively identify which used batteries are still suitable for ‘second life’ applications, and which should be recycled.
Part of the project also looks into automated methods to dismantle batteries so that they can be recycled more efficiently.
Rebellion also proposes the introduction of safety protocol for the recycling and reusing process, which includes designing safety box containers for safe battery transportation and storage.
It also wants a standardised labelling system to provide data on second life batteries.
The NTU team has been tasked to develop the ‘information communication technology platform and infrastructure’ for the project.
It will also use the near-£600k grant to develop methods in relation to traceability of batteries, digital battery passports, ecolabelling and the calculation of eco-cost and eco-savings.
Some of the grant will also be used to test second-life batteries as lighting products.
Second life for batteries from Jaguar EVs: The car maker has signed a partnership with energy firm Pramac to provide batteries from end-of-life I-Pace SUVs to use in portable power stations
BMW UK also partnered with a British energy storage firm to supply decommissioned EV batteries that can be used as mobile charging devices for other plug-in cars
Off Grid Energy in 2020 created mobile charging devices powered by lithium-ion battery modules extracted from a Mini Electric development vehicle (not device pictured)
Last year, Jaguar Land Rover announced it has signed a new partnership with energy firm Pramac to reuse batteries from its electric I-Pace in portable power stations. BMW announced a similar project in 2020.
Awarding of funding to NTU for the project comes in the wake of recent analysis that claims the ban on the sale of new petrol cars from 2030 will not be enough to meet green targets, because polluting vehicles bought today are ‘very likely’ to still be on the road for years to come.
One in five cars are 13 years old or more, which is twice the proportion of a decade ago.
Vehicles have become less prone to corrosion and serious mechanical failure, while the cost-of-living crisis has made buying a car less affordable, even if preowned.
Steve Gooding, director of RAC Foundation, said that cars purchased today are ‘very likely’ to be in use well beyond 2030.
This means if buyers choose not to go electric now, their purchase will have an impact on the environment for many years.
‘For those thinking of going electric but wavering, perhaps put off by the up-front price, there is a case for pausing to see how things play out in the next year or two, rather than falling back to petrol,’ said Mr Gooding.