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What will happen to all the electric car batteries?


Proper charging and maintenance habits can keep an electric vehicle’s battery pack running for well over a decade. At some point, however, the battery pack will need to be replaced. So, what happens to an EV battery after it’s taken out of the vehicle?

The two most effective ways to manage these spent lithium-ion battery packs is to reuse and recycle them.


An electric vehicle battery pack is at the end of its service life when its capacity lowers by 20 to 30%. From this point onward, each charge-discharge-charge cycle will lower the battery capacity even further and the pack is no longer suitable for powering the vehicle.

Just because that battery pack is no longer suited for an electric vehicle, however, does not mean that the battery is “dead.” These battery packs still contain well over half of their storage capacity when they are deemed unfit for use in a vehicle. In some instances, these batteries can be directly repurposed to power light-duty vehicles or industrial equipment. Often, spent EV batteries find new life in energy storage systems. Depending on the state of the batteries, they may be integrated into large, stationary energy storage systems, such as solar panel grids, or into commercial and personal energy solutions, such as back-up power supplies.

Experts estimate that a spent EV battery pack could be reused for at least ten years. Not only would this effectively double the battery pack’s lifespan, but, because it emits zero operating emissions, would greatly reduce its overall carbon footprint.


Once repurposing a used lithium-ion battery pack is no longer feasible, the next step is to recycle it. The battery cell housing (steel, aluminum, plastic, etc.) can all be easily retrieved and recycled for use in other settings. Moreover, the lithium, manganese, nickel, and other elements found in the battery cells can be recovered and refined for a multitude of different uses, including use in future EV batteries.

Since 2017, German recycling company Duesenfeld has demonstrated the ability to consistently recycle over 90% of used lithium-ion battery material. The company’s recycling method forgoes high-temperature thermal processing, reducing their overall CO2 emissions during the recycling process.

Duesenfeld aren’t the only players either; the recycling process for lithium-ion batteries is already spreading worldwide. Canadian recycling company Li-Cycle currently process over 5,000 tonnes of used lithium-ion batteries per year, with the ability to extract over 95% of the battery’s usable materials.

What happens to an EV battery when it dies?

Whether it’s for commercial or personal use, the popularity of electric vehicles is steadily on the rise. After hitting record-high sales numbers in 2021, industry specialists anticipate at least 145 million EVs to be on the road by 2030. With these projections, it’s critical to plan for what to do with an electric vehicle battery pack after it has reached the end of its service life. The current methods of reusing and recycling lithium-ion batteries already show tremendous promise and must continue to grow alongside the demand for electric vehicles.

Rokion is a division of Prairie Machine, a Canadian OEM specializing in continuous boring systems and continuous haulage systems. Rokion delivers battery powered electric vehicles for use in underground mine applications worldwide.

What’s Going To Happen To The Millions Of Electric Car Batteries After Their Lifespans End?

EVs for future

While driving electric vehicles is a step towards a greener future, the car batteries that power them are not as sustainable. Though the battery is at the heart of any EV, most are made from lithium-ion and have a limited lifespan that starts to degrade from the first time you charge them. So what happens when they reach capacity?

The cycle of charging and discharging causes them lose energy and power. The more charge cycles a battery goes through, the faster it will degrade. Once batteries reach 70 or 80% of their capacity, which happens around either 5 to 8 years or after 100,000 miles of driving, they have to be replaced, according to Science Direct.

Due to electric vehicles’ rising popularity, it goes without saying that their battery waste will become a major issue. Experts estimate that 12 million tons of batteries will be thrown away by 2030, The Guardian reported. The conundrum that manufacturers and consumers have is that although they can be recycled, there are not enough facilities to handle them. To date, there are only four lithium-ion recycling centers in the United States (via WCNC). However, this number must grow exponentially in the next few years as Industry experts predict there will be 85 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 (via Science Direct).

Recycling is complex

EV car

Recycling car batteries is an arduous and dangerous process that involves splitting them apart to extract the metals inside. To do it, recyclers typically utilize two techniques: pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy, Science reported. Pyrometallurgy, the preferred method, shreds the battery down and then a burning process takes the metal out. With hydrometallurgy, the battery is submerged in acid to separate the metal. With either method, there is a risk of toxic fume emissions or an outright explosion (via Science).

There are other issues too. Unlike other compact batteries, EV batteries weigh about 960 pounds, according to Wired. If you are an EV manufacturer, finding proper transportation and storage could prove a logistical nightmare. They are also a fire hazard if and when stored together. A report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that between 2013 and 2020, more than 240 lithium-ion battery fires broke out across 64 municipal waste facilities.

And that’s not all. If these batteries find their way to landfills, harmful toxins such as lead and nickel can contaminate soil and groundwater supplies (via AZO Clean Tech).

Companies are Giving EV Batteries a Second-Life

companies and EVs

Outside of recycling, old EV batteries can be repurposed as a renewable energy source for homes and businesses. Even if they have a reduced storage capacity, they can be reused to store wind and solar energy, according to Innovative News Network. This can extend their life cycle by another seven to 10 years.

A good example of this is Toyota’s initiative to sustainably power Yellowstone Park. The car company equipped the landmark with solar panels powered by batteries that once belonged in Camry Hybrids, replacing diesel generators (via Toyota).

Toyota was not the only one, however. A Spanish company ran an experiment where it converted used lithiom-ion batteries into second-life batteries with great success. In particular, it proved the ability to use recycled electric vehicle batteries to help power one of the local electricity plants in the case that there is a temporary shut down (via Enel).

Batteries for Electric Vehicles

Photo of a lithium-ion battery.

Most plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries like these.

Energy storage systems, usually batteries, are essential for all-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).

Types of Energy Storage Systems

The following energy storage systems are used in all-electric vehicles, PHEVs, and HEVs.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are currently used in most portable consumer electronics such as cell phones and laptops because of their high energy per unit mass relative to other electrical energy storage systems. They also have a high power-to-weight ratio, high energy efficiency, good high-temperature performance, and low self-discharge. Most components of lithium-ion batteries can be recycled, but the cost of material recovery remains a challenge for the industry. The U.S. Department of Energy is also supporting the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize to develop and demonstrate profitable solutions for collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting spent and discarded lithium-ion batteries for eventual recycling and materials recovery. Most of today’s all-electric vehicles and PHEVs use lithium-ion batteries, though the exact chemistry often varies from that of consumer electronics batteries. Research and development are ongoing to reduce their relatively high cost, extend their useful life, and address safety concerns in regard to overheating.

Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries

Nickel-metal hydride batteries, used routinely in computer and medical equipment, offer reasonable specific energy and specific power capabilities. Nickel-metal hydride batteries have a much longer life cycle than lead-acid batteries and are safe and abuse tolerant. These batteries have been widely used in HEVs. The main challenges with nickel-metal hydride batteries are their high cost, high self-discharge and heat generation at high temperatures, and the need to control hydrogen loss.

Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries can be designed to be high power and are inexpensive, safe, and reliable. However, low specific energy, poor cold-temperature performance, and short calendar and lifecycle impede their use. Advanced high-power lead-acid batteries are being developed, but these batteries are only used in commercially available electric-drive vehicles for ancillary loads.


Ultracapacitors store energy in a polarized liquid between an electrode and an electrolyte. Energy storage capacity increases as the liquid’s surface area increases. Ultracapacitors can provide vehicles additional power during acceleration and hill climbing and help recover braking energy. They may also be useful as secondary energy-storage devices in electric-drive vehicles because they help electrochemical batteries level load power.

Recycling Batteries

Electric-drive vehicles are relatively new to the U.S. auto market, so only a small number of them have approached the end of their useful lives. As electric-drive vehicles become increasingly common, the battery-recycling market may expand.

Widespread battery recycling would keep hazardous materials from entering the waste stream, both at the end of a battery’s useful life and during its production. The material recovery from recycling would also reintroduce critical materials back into the supply chain and would increase the domestic sources for such materials. Work is now underway to develop battery-recycling processes that minimize the life-cycle impacts of using lithium-ion and other kinds of batteries in vehicles. But not all recycling processes are the same and require different methods of separation for material recovery:

  • Smelting: Smelting processes recover basic elements or salts. These processes are operational now on a large scale and can accept multiple kinds of batteries, including lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride. Smelting takes place at high temperatures where organic materials, including the electrolyte and carbon anodes, are burned as fuel or reductant. The valuable metals are recovered and sent to refining so that the product is suitable for any use. The other materials, including lithium, are contained in the slag, which is now used as an additive in concrete.
  • Direct recovery: At the other extreme, some recycling processes directly recover battery-grade materials. Components are separated by a variety of physical and chemical processes, and all active materials and metals can be recovered. Direct recovery is a low-temperature process with minimal energy requirement.
  • Intermediate processes: The third type of process is between the two extremes. Such processes may accept multiple kinds of batteries, unlike direct recovery, but recover materials further along the production chain than smelting does.

Separating the different kinds of battery materials is often a stumbling block in recovering high-value materials. Therefore, battery design that considers disassembly and recycling is important in order for electric-drive vehicles to succeed from a sustainability standpoint. Standardizing batteries, materials, and cell design would also make recycling easier and more cost-effective.

More Information

Learn more about research and development of batteries from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s energy storage pages and the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Office’s batteries page.

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