The past decade brought us the commercial availability of electric vehicles (EVs) and by 2025, every major automaker will have some model of EV on the road. What makes EVs so different is the replacement of carbon-dioxide-spewing internal combustion engine with a large battery. The benefit is increased sustainability, assuming you charge your EV battery with electricity from clean, renewable energy sources.
Most EVs run on lithium-ion batteries, thanks to their favorable energy-to-weight ratio and longevity compared to other batteries. I won’t get into the fundamentals of batteries in this article, but there are great articles on lithium-ion battery technology.
Extending the Life of EV Batteries
One of the best ways to increase a product’s sustainability is to get the most use out it before giving it another purpose. There are many ways to extend the life of batteries; here are some basics you should know.
Most importantly, avoid overcharging and deeply discharging your battery. For the best battery lifespan, keep your battery from 20 to 80 percent charged. A charge above 80 percent is considered overcharging, and under 20 percent is a deep discharge. When possible, drive your EV until the battery reaches 20 percent, and then charge it on a timer to 80 percent. Try to limit 100 percent charges to long-distance trips.
High electric currents also create a major strain on the battery. Avoid quick-charging your EV’s battery or flooring its acceleration pedal — both will damage the battery. By driving conservatively and slow-charging the battery, you’ll reduce the likelihood of straining your battery with high electric currents.
Other strains on the battery are mitigated through a factory-installed battery management system (BMS). Basically, a BMS maintains and tracks the battery performance and safeguards it against the strains mentioned above. The BMS is a good indicator for when the battery needs to be replaced or serviced.
When To Replace the EV Battery
If you have concerns about your battery’s performance, get it inspected by a qualified technician.
Because EVs are still relatively new, there’s a shortage of qualified EV technicians, so the dealership is the best place to take your EV for servicing. Their technicians will be able to diagnose, repair, and replace that EV’s battery.
Most EV batteries have an approximate lifespan of seven to 10 years and are warrantied for at least eight years and 100,000 miles. So, if you keep your EV long enough, you will eventually need to replace the battery.
The Afterlife of an EV Battery
Once your EV battery degrades to 70 percent, you will likely replace the battery or the car. Fortunately, some companies are working on ways to recycle and repurpose used EV batteries, extending their useful life.
The many materials in the battery and the advanced chemical procedures required make recycling a difficult and costly proposition.
One of the companies leading the effort to make lithium-ion battery recycling possible is Li-Cycle. Their proprietary process can recycle 100 percent of the lithium solution from the battery. After they dismantle the battery, the dismantled parts can be reused to assemble a new battery. One of the most important steps is deactivating or freezing each cell to keep it from chemically reacting and creating a hazard. Once that’s done, another process separates the metals from solvents and electrolytes to use in making a new battery cell.
So, a battery can be recycled but my major concerns are the hazards and by-products from this process. If an old EV battery still has some life to it, repurposing is the better choice.
Even though the battery can no longer efficiently power a vehicle, it can still store energy. A company called RePurpose Energy repurposes these batteries to take advantage of their remaining usefulness.
RePurpose Energy created a modular battery pack from old EV and hybrid batteries that can be used for industrial-sized energy storage solutions. Even though the batteries can no longer power vehicles, they are ideal for stationary energy storage. Companies like RePurpose see the potential for repurposing these EV batteries for back-up power supply, solar energy storage, electric grid buffering power, and more.
Make Your EV More Sustainable
It seems likely that electric vehicles are the future, so it’s logical to make them as sustainable as possible. The easiest way for you to help is by adjusting your driving and charging habits to help extend the life of your EV’s battery.
By supporting companies that recycle and repurpose used EV batteries, organizations and governments can encourage the reuse of valuable materials — and keep them out of landfills. With sufficient research, planning, and support, one day it may be possible to recycle or repurpose an entire car.
About the Author
Derek McKee is a R&D chemist in the coatings industry. Because of his background, he really likes to educate others about personal safety and environmental protection. Writing lets him reach more people than the ones in his company.
Feature image: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima [CC0], Wikimedia Commons