Where three million electric car batteries will go when they retire

The first batches of batteries from electric and hybrid vehicles are hitting retirement age, yet they aren’t bound for landfills. Instead, they’ll spend their golden years chilling beer at 7-Elevens in Japan, powering car-charging stations in California and storing energy for homes and grids in Europe.

 

Lithium-ion car and bus batteries can collect and discharge electricity for another seven to 10 years after being taken off the roads and stripped from chassis—a shelf life with significant ramifications for global carmakers, electricity providers and raw-materials suppliers.

 

Finding ways to reuse the technology is becoming more urgent as the global stockpile of EV batteries is forecast to exceed the equivalent of about 3.4 million packs by 2025, compared with about 55,000 this year, according to calculations based on Bloomberg NEF data.

 

China, where about half the world’s EVs are sold, is implementing rules in August to make carmakers responsible for expired batteries and to keep them out of landfills. The European Union has regulations, and the industry expects the US to follow.

 

General Motors, BMW, Toyota Motor, BYD  and a clutch of renewable-energy storage suppliers are among those trying to create an aftermarket and extra profits for a device that only recently coalesced into its own market. Second lives generate second revenue streams for the same product, and those could help lower prices for EVs.

 

“The car manufacturers have an upcoming problem, and one that we are already starting to see: this massive volume of batteries,” said Johan Stjernberg, chief executive officer of Box of Energy, a Swedish company working with Porsche and Volvo Cars. “The market will be enormous for second-life applications with storage.”

 

The decade-by-decade forecast by BNEF is staggering. By 2030, there will be a 25-fold surge in battery demand for EVs. Automobiles have overtaken consumer electronics as the biggest users of lithium-ion batteries, according to Paris-based Avicenne Energy.

 

By 2040, more than half of new-car sales and a third of the global fleet—equal to 559 million vehicles—will be electric. By 2050, companies will have invested about $550 billion in home, industrial and grid-scale battery storage, according to BNEF.

 

“The logic behind this is the circular economy,” said Cecile Sobole, programme manager for Renault SA’s EV business. “The battery coming from the electric vehicle will become more and more a part of the energy world.”

 

Yet as many companies dive in, the biggest US electric-car maker—Tesla—stays on the sidelines. The Palo Alto, California-based company said its batteries probably won’t be suitable for a new task after 10 to 15 years of use, and it’s focusing on recovering the raw materials. Repurposing efforts may slow if it becomes more profitable to extract materials like cobalt and simply make new batteries.

 

Declining performance for an EV battery is evidenced by fewer miles of driving per charge and more frequent plug-ins by owners. The components typically will be swapped out after about a decade in family cars and four years in harder-working buses and taxis.



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