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Cars Are Going Electric. What Happens to the Used Batteries?

Wired – “Used electric vehicle batteries could be the Achilles’ heel of the transportation revolution—or the gold mine that makes it real…Extracting the valuable materials from an EV battery is difficult and expensive. The recycling process typically involves shredding batteries, then breaking them down further with heat or chemicals at dedicated facilities. That part is relatively simple. The harder part is getting dead batteries to those facilities from wherever they met their demise. About 40 percent of the overall cost of recycling, according to one recent study, is transportation. EV battery packs are so massive they need to be shipped by truck (not airplane) in specially designed cases, often across vast distances, to reach centralized recycling facilities. Handling lithium-ion batteries is so demanding that dealerships have chosen to ship an entire 4,000-pound damaged vehicle to Oklahoma City, just so SNT can extract and repair or recycle the 1,000-pound battery inside. In all, the journey is so labor- and resource-intensive that it generally exceeds the costs of digging up new materials from the ground. Currently, the only battery material that can be recycled profitably is cobalt, because it’s just that rare and expensive. For the same reason, many battery makers hope to eliminate it from their chemistries soon, threatening to make the value proposition for recyclers even harder. “Recycling is not going to be profitable for everybody. That’s fantasy economics,” says Leo Raudys, CEO of Call2Recycle, a nonprofit that handles recycling logistics for dead batteries. Even cobalt-free batteries are toxic and a fire danger, though they still contain plenty of valuable materials, like lithium and nickel. But recycling them responsibly is simply less profitable…”

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