Carlos Tavares, boss of Stellantis, (almost) laughs about the possibility of a lack of resources for all manufacturers to go electric. Are there enough batteries for everyone, and especially for all the ambitious sales targets to reach? The future will tell. But one thing is certain, nickel, lithium and cobalt are in high demand. So much so that manufacturers may decide to take back control of “their” vehicles. Even if they are not theirs, because there is still a segment of the population that decides to buy their car instead of renting it on LOA or LLD.
Recovery of end-of-life electric vehicles
To make their electric cars, manufacturers buy the raw materials indirectly, by signing supply contracts for the “equivalent” GWh of batteries. But in the background, they mainly buy metals. If they are not really worried about the cost of making thermals, relying on steel, aluminum and more widespread metals, they can tell themselves that the recovery of electricity at the end of their life will be a big financial property.
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Instead of paying again for the production of batteries from metals taken by countries with monopoly (China, Australia, Congo, etc.), Automotive groups can thus recycle “their” own batteries at the end of their life to put them back on the road in new vehicles.. Thus they have control over their batteries, instead of calling on third parties who take care of their recovery and recycling.
And it doesn’t matter if, in the meantime, the shape and composition of the battery has changed: a cell is a cell, and there is always lithium in batteries (at least in the current chemistry). And because of the cost of metals, recycling can, over time, become more interesting than buying raw materials from producers…
How long does an electric car battery last?
The answer to this question depends on many factors that can be categorical. Most manufacturers guarantee their package for 8 years (some 10 years or more, but this is rarer). Which obviously does not mean that the battery will be useless after 8 years or 160,000 km. This mainly has to do with charging. Motorists who use their electric car for short trips tend to charge at home, at low-power sockets. This will limit the heating of the battery (causes the formation of “dentrites” inside, which accelerates the aging of the battery). On the contrary, people who regularly charge powerful and fast terminals will inevitably notice a short life., except with a battery pack with more elaborate cooling (like a Porsche Taycan). Other factors, such as keeping the “SoC” (state of charge) between 20-80%, help extend battery life. In general, the wear and tear of a battery follows a logarithmic curve: very high for the first few years, then “declines” thereafter. But each case is different: type of chemistry (LFP, NMC…), cooling, use, all these affect the health of the battery. And then, a battery that drops to 70% charge capacity or less should be thrown away. It clears up faster.
Compare the real autonomy of the best electric cars according to our standardized measurement cycle. Battery capacity, consumption, autonomy, we tell you everything!
Renault, Audi… the manufacturers are recycling
There is no shortage of examples of manufacturers talking about battery recycling. Except that right now, they don’t have much to eat. If we estimate at the time of the first electrics the lifespan of a battery in 8/10 years, it can be seen in fact that they go forward before the actual retirement. 12 or even 15 years old. It is well past the age of the first “mainstream” electrics, such as the Renault Zoe Mk1 or the first generation Nissan Leaf. In other words: we are not yet at the point where manufacturers can collect hundreds of thousands of batteries for recycling. However, the sector is organizing. Renault already has a recycling contract and a unique pilot plant project, in partnership with Veolia and the chemical specialist, Solvay. The goal is to build a “circular ecosystem of metals from electric batteries in Europe”. Collect batteries (with Veolia), dismantle them, recycle every component and metal, then recover the raw materials to make new batteries.
“Once the diagnosis has been made and the battery is made safe thanks to a gradual drop in voltage, the phase of deconstruction and crushing of components and cells begins, before the effective extraction of metals present. Non-cellular components are those that are reused or recycled for specific metal alloys in new industrial applications (aluminum, cables, steel, plastics, etc. pa), set at Véolia in 2021.
This process has proven to be too expensive to compete with the price of raw metals, but in the last two years, their court has exploded. And then, without going as far as recycling, manufacturers can also use these “used” batteries (which are usually about 60 to 70% of the SoC, a little for the automotive customer, but for most for other uses) in buildings. Very interesting storage units, which also offer the possibility of “buffering” in case of power shortage. Something that is never included in 2022, these days.
The Example of Volkwagen
Last year, Volkswagen announced that it was working on a new commercial format. After the first rental contract, the idea is to return the rental car (LLD, especially) once, or even twice. So the goal is to bring the car to the end of the life of the battery without it leaving the Volkswagen “home”, which will remain its owner until the end. “The life of a battery is estimated to be 350,000 km or 1000 cycles. So the battery is more likely to last longer than the car.and we want to keep our hands on these batteries”, explained Herbert Diess when he was the boss of the Volkswagen group. His departure may have called into question this new lease scheme, but it seems very interesting on paper for of the manufacturer that we can hardly imagine the high authorities in Germany completely forgot about it Making the construction of a car profitable with two or even three rental contracts to recover the battery at the end (of recycling it, or using it in a storage unit for industry) related to paper, in any case, as long as the price of metals is very high.