Good News for EVs: Recycled Lithium Batteries Work Just as Well as New

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Alex Healey
Updated on Apr 27, 2022 · 3 min read
Numerous studies have pointed to
electric vehicles
producing significantly
lower greenhouse gas emissions
than their gas counterparts, but not everyone is convinced that EVs are good for the environment.
Critics have long pointed to their use of lithium-ion batteries, which rely on riskily mined metals such as nickel, manganese, and cobalt, as a reason why the mass adoption of EVs will be bad for the planet.
Recycling these materials seems an obvious solution. It would minimize the environmental impact of mining, keep old batteries from landfills, and cut emissions resulting from the manufacture of new ones.
Unfortunately, while our ability to recycle the valuable metals in batteries continues to improve, EV makers have expressed concern that using them would negatively affect a battery’s performance.
Well, this notion has just been blown out of the water! A major study suggests that recycled lithium batteries are not only as good as those using newly mined metals, they may even be better.
Recycled lithium car batteries could be a huge deal for EVs.

What has the battery recycling study found

quotes WPI’s professor of mechanical engineering, Yin Wang, as saying, "In general, people's impression is that recycled material is not as good as virgin material...Battery companies still hesitate to use recycled material in their batteries."
However, a study conducted by Wang and his team of researchers suggests that battery manufacturers have got this wrong.
The team tested batteries using recycled NMC111 cathodes, which contain one third each of cobalt, manganese, and nickel. These cathodes were made using a recycling technique that has been patented by Wang’s own startup company.
Not only did the recycled lithium batteries match the performance of those using newly mined materials, they actually showed up to 53% longer cycle life. The study concluded that this is possible because the recycled materials have a more porous structure, enabling lithium ions to slip in and out more easily.

Can this technology be applied to EV batteries?

The study did not test its recycled batteries in electric vehicles, but Yang claims they were tested at “industrially relevant scales,” and with the same density as EV batteries.
Wang’s startup is called Battery Resources, and claims to be able to make cathode materials based on whatever a car manufacturer needs. The company will open its first battery manufacturing plant in 2022, and plans to have two more European facilities in place by the end of next year.
The results of Wang’s study are very promising, but his team is not the only group touting the advantages of recycled minerals.
In fact, earlier this year, electric car giant Tesla claimed to have developed in-house process to undertake
large-scale battery recycling
, which can recover up to 92% of raw battery materials.
Of course, it will take time for these new recycling techniques to become mainstream, but it is a step in the right direction towards a more sustainable electric car industry.

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