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Technology Priorities for a CTO that Will Fuel Innovation & Collaboration in 2024
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Technology Priorities for a CTO that Will Fuel Innovation & Collaboration in 2024
Shyam Sundar Pal Shyam Sundar Pal Written by Shyam Sundar Pal, Technical Architect, Technology Group
on 14 Jun 2023

Electric vehicles are rapidly evolving toward providing an eco-friendly and sustainable commute globally. Not just manufacturers but consumers too are battling global warming by adopting technology and solutions that mitigate risks related to climatic doom.

Currently, most vehicles use internal combustion engines (ICEs), which burn fossil fuels, to produce power to drive the vehicles, amplifying carbon emissions. Per MER, “The average Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) has an efficiency of only around 40%, with 60% lost via heat and friction. As a result, ICEs consume far more energy traveling the same distance as an EV.” Given how the automotive industry has a key role in protecting the planet’s future, and one way is to lower pollution caused by vehicles, major OEMs are investing in producing battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

The exponential demand for EVs has, in turn, driven the mass production of batteries. This poses a new challenge for venture capitalists, OEMs, and energy-producing companies: investing in recycling millions of tons of lithium-ion batteries, especially in North America and Europe. The recycling rate for lithium is less than 5% at present. Earlier, there were fears that EV batteries may not have a long life, like traditional phone/laptop batteries. However, with advanced technology and a robust battery management system (BMS), EV lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have lasted longer than expected, ensuring that battery recycling capacity matches the influx of end-of-life batteries.

Another reuse of battery after battery recycling is energy storage due to regenerative braking. Regenerative braking allows electric vehicles to capture energy lost during brakes applied on the vehicle by using the electric motor, which is used as a power generator and stores this generated energy in the battery. Here battery reuse is done through recharging of regenerative braking which stores back the energy to battery cells.

Need for battery recycling

With the dynamic shift toward EVs, the demand to dispose of and recycle EV batteries has gained significant momentum. EV batteries are composed of rare earth metals and chemicals extracted with great difficulty. Once a battery reaches its end of life, disposing of it appropriately is tedious. While reusing old batteries is usually the best solution, sometimes, batteries manufactured are defective or may be non-functional. In such cases, recycling is the best option. However, one of the biggest challenges in disposing of Li-ion batteries is recycling the raw materials used to produce these powerful energy containers.

Battery recycling is an efficient and eco-friendly alternative to the primary extraction of raw materials. As per recent studies, over half of the cobalt, lithium, and nickel in new batteries could come from recycled materials by 2040. EV raw materials cost goes up to about 60% of the total manufacturing cost of an EV battery. Hence, recycling the electric car after 20 years and reusing the battery is considered more viable than getting a new one.

Recycling lithium-ion batteries is increasingly becoming a priority for countries and companies trying to reduce their dependency on raw material mining. Because many materials in EV batteries are rare or hard to source, recycling can ensure these valuable materials aren’t lost to landfills and instead fed back to the supply chain.

Benefits of battery recycling

  1. Protects the environment by reducing mining for the materials like cobalt, nickel, and lithium. 
  2. Reduces manufacturing cost as the recovered materials cost less to process.
  3. Recovery of materials from quality failed batteries is possible.
  4. Reduces transportation costs if the processing unit is near the battery manufacturing unit.
  5. Keeps the end-of-life batteries out of landfills.
  6. Reduces the dependence on unexplored mining materials.

Hurdles along the way

The primary factors affecting EV production include material shortage, soaring raw material prices, geopolitical issues, technology availability, and supply chain bottlenecks. However, scaling up mining operations to satisfy the surge in demand is difficult as it takes much longer to make the planning-to-production transition. Additionally, the supply chain is prone to disruptions and volatility as most of the minerals used in EV batteries are available in only a few countries.

While the rise in demand for zero-emission vehicles and recycled materials is the main driver of the EV battery recycling market, there are significant challenges, including:

  • High initial investments
  • High transportation costs
  • Shortage of worn-out batteries
  • Dismantling, storing, and manual testing of batteries
  • Chemical separation processes
  • Illegal battery recycling
  • Expensive process 
  • Uncertain economic feasibility due to the shortage of raw materials

Another significant hurdle is developing a system of shared battery collections across multiple OEMs and recyclers to improve cost and environmental efficiencies. As the EV market continues to grow, EV battery recycling needs to keep pace with rapidly evolving battery chemistries and sizes.

Furthermore, better sorting technologies and process flexibility, convenient access to EV recycling options, greater manufacturer standardization of batteries, and regulatory stability can improve EV battery recycling. Inefficiencies in mining methods, chemical processing, and a delocalized global supply chain are the main factors that have held back growth and cost competitiveness.

Safety concerns

Several stringent regulations are in place for EV battery manufacture. The European Union has already specified that EV batteries shall be 50% recyclable by weight, which will increase to 65% by 2025. As EV batteries are made of rare, hard-to-source materials, recycling will help reduce the need for new raw materials, moving away from unethical and problematic supply chains. Though recycling a battery is energy-intensive, it still uses less energy to produce a battery from scratch. Second, recycling a battery prevents it from ending up in a landfill, where its components can leach into groundwater and pollute the water supply. It has been found that old EV batteries retain around 60-70% of their original capacity after the car has been scrapped. Such reused batteries may not be suitable for EVs but may be used for other less energy-intensive applications.

Environmental impact

The question of the environmental impact of battery manufacturing is perhaps even more important. Even if there are enough materials, the impact of their use must be seriously considered.

Studies show that battery manufacturing can have a serious impact in terms of human toxicity or ecosystem pollution. Another consideration is the conditions under which labor works to manufacture batteries in certain countries. Furthermore, analyzing the environmental impact of EV production requires complete knowledge of battery composition and manufacturing processes, but this information is difficult to obtain for obvious reasons related to industrial property. Also, careful decomposition of expired batteries, which cannot be reused, is required so that the environment is not polluted.

Repurposing EV batteries

While EV batteries may no longer meet the performance requirements for powering a vehicle, they may still have a significant amount of usable capacity. Reusing these batteries can extend their lifespan and provide value in other areas. Here are a few examples of how EV batteries can be repurposed:

  • Energy storage: Used EV batteries can be repurposed for stationary energy storage applications. They can store excess renewable energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines and release it during times of high demand. By utilizing these batteries, energy can be stored and discharged when needed, improving grid stability and reducing reliance on fossil fuel-based power generation.
  • Home energy systems: EV batteries can be integrated into home energy systems, providing backup power during outages or as a primary energy storage solution. They can store energy during off-peak hours when electricity rates are low and release it during peak hours when rates are higher. This helps homeowners reduce their electricity bills and optimize their energy usage.
  • Industrial applications: Repurposed EV batteries can be used in various industrial settings to power equipment and machinery, especially where a stable and uninterrupted power supply is crucial. For instance, they can be used in warehouses, construction sites, or remote off-grid installations to provide power for lighting, machinery, or temporary installations.
  • Grid-scale energy storage: EV batteries, when combined in large numbers, can be aggregated to create grid-scale energy storage systems. These systems can help balance the electricity grid by storing excess energy during periods of low demand and releasing it during peak demand, thereby reducing the strain on power generation and transmission infrastructure.
  • Second-life EV applications: In some cases, EV batteries that no longer meet the requirements for driving can still be repurposed for less demanding EV applications. For example, they can be used in electric bicycles, electric scooters, or low-speed electric vehicles with lower power and energy demands.

Repurposing EV batteries for these applications helps maximize their life cycle and reduce waste. However, it's important to note that not all EV batteries are suitable for every application, as their capacity and performance characteristics may vary. Proper testing, evaluation, and repackaging of the reused batteries may be necessary to ensure their compatibility for power rating with proper user application.


About the Author

Shyam has overall 18 years of experience in IT industry and academics. He has an extensive knowledge in design, development and testing of software products in Automotive and Telecom. He is currently engaged in developing Software Defined Vehicles (SDV) and Model-Based Software Design (MBD). He developed architecture and led the team for development of navigation stack for self-driving vehicles. His technical expertise includes development of Base Software and Application Software of Classic Autosar. Shyam holds 27 granted patents in the area of self-driving vehicle navigation stack, path planning, mapping and wireless 4G LTE & 5G.

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