The rise of electric cars has made people worried about two things: where to get the materials for all the batteries, and what to do with them when they’re no good. Let’s talk about the second problem first. Recycling batteries can be tough, but there’s another way to use them before they’re completely useless. We call this “second life.” It’s easier than recycling and can help solve many problems.
We know there will be a lot of used electric car batteries to deal with eventually. Electric cars now make up about 16% of all cars in the world, especially in Europe and China. There are also batteries in buses, trucks, and motorcycles being made very quickly. But here’s the thing, people used to think that electric car batteries would only last about five years. If that was true, we’d have a big problem very soon. But it turns out that these batteries are lasting longer, more like 8-10 years, and new technology might make them last even longer for future cars.
However, that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Even if we can use the batteries longer in cars, we still need to figure out what to do with them when they’re done. Right now, recycling them to get the raw materials back is a tough job. When it comes to smaller batteries for phones and laptops, only about 5% are getting recycled. Electric car batteries need to work really well to make the car go far. If a car battery can only hold 70% of its original power, the car won’t go as far before needing to be charged. Adding more batteries to fix this isn’t practical. But here’s where it gets interesting. These “second life” batteries can be used for something else. They can store electricity from the sun and be used when we need it most, like in the evening when the sun goes down. Even if they’ve lost some of their power, we can use more of them to make up for it.There are still some challenges, though. These batteries work best when they’re all similar, and figuring out which ones to use together is important.
However, when it comes to solving problems, this seems like one we can handle. Second life batteries might not solve all our energy storage problems, especially for long periods when there’s not much sun or wind. But they can definitely help cut down on using fossil fuels, like gas plants, during busy times.
Right now, there’s actually a shortage of old batteries because so many people want them. The prices for second life batteries are even higher than new ones! People are using them for all sorts of things, like boats, houses that aren’t connected to the grid, and in cars with short commutes. Eventually, batteries will get too old to be used a second or third time. When that happens, recycling will be the only option. But because second life uses don’t wear out batteries as quickly as driving a car does, that day is still a long way off.
Image Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-12/charging-into-the-future-the-transition-to-electric-vehicles.htm