Electric car batteries, new ways to recycle them are on the way

Electric car batteries, new ways to recycle them are on the way

Electric car batteries

Despite the many ongoing trials, one of the questions still open in the EV sector is that, if the cars do not pollute, the disposal of the batteries does (due to materials that are no longer recyclable). A possible solution to the problem comes from the UK thanks to new ultrasound-based techniques, developed by researchers from the universities of Leicester and Birmingham.

Since it is not economically acceptable to dismantle the batteries of an electric vehicle using expensive methods traditional, by applying ultrasound, raw materials such as nickel are “pulverized”. Subsequently, the material is collected and reused to assemble new units that will be mounted on brand new vehicles. The entire process, currently being tested, has already given good results, so much so that a patent has been formally requested. If it can be adapted to large-scale production, it is estimated that 60% of the costs associated with the production of new batteries will be saved (in addition to the reduction of waste material and related pollution).

In ongoing trials, much of the process is carried out manually but it is planned to use robots dedicated to the disassembly of the batteries. Once brought to maximum efficiency, this technique can assemble 100 times more battery materials than traditional recycling methods (based, for example, on acid and various solvents).

Moving to the United States, other recovery technologies of the batteries were prepared by the ReCell project, sponsored directly by the US government. In this case, these are more traditional methods that aim to recycle the cathodes of the individual batteries by combining new and regenerated material in the assembly. The set goal is to reach the quantities necessary for the functioning of the individual batteries, recovering key materials such as cobalt and nickel.

The goal of the project, like much of US trade policy, is to reduce its dependence on other countries (here for cathodes). If they manage to recover large quantities, the United States will be able to eliminate the outsourcing costs associated with the entire process. This will naturally have positive effects for the stars and stripes users, given the reduction in production costs and the prices of new electric cars.

General Motors strikes a deal to source lithium in the US for its electric car batteries

© Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

General Motors has struck a deal with a mining company to source lithium, a key ingredient in electric-car batteries, from geothermal deposits in the US. The automaker is making a “multi-million dollar” investment in Australia’s Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) to bolster the mining firm’s efforts to extract lithium from California’s Salton Sea Geothermal Field.

It’s a risky bet by GM, given that there is no full-scale lithium production in the US from geothermal wells. Most of the world’s lithium comes from two places: lithium brine deposits in South America’s “lithium triangle” of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia; and hard-rock deposits in Australia. But its a sign that GM is trying to think holistically about the challenge of becoming an EV-only company by 2035.

It’s a risky bet by GM

CTR’s “direct extraction” process will have a “very small physical footprint” that produces very few carbon emissions, said Tim Grewe, general director electrification strategy and cell engineering at GM. Electric vehicle batteries can use lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, but the industry typically talks of lithium carbonate equivalent, which contains both.

“Lithium is a crucial metal to make these affordable high mileage electric vehicles in our future,” Grewe said. “We’re gonna have the first rights for the lithium produced out of this project.”

GM said a “significant amount” of the lithium it needs for its EV batteries will come from CTR’s “Hell’s Kitchen” development site in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field, located in Imperial, California. The California Energy Commission estimates the area could produce 600,000 tons of lithium carbonate annually, worth $7.2 billion.

Video: Lithium metal batteries could soon power planes and cars (CNBC)

Lithium metal batteries could soon power planes and cars






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“It’s the single largest lithium brine resource in the United States, if not on the planet… It will be a critical hub,” Rod Colwell, CEO of CTR, told Fortune earlier this month.

There won’t be an immediate payoff for GM’s investment, the size of which the company declined to disclose. The first stage of CTR’s project is not expected to yield lithium until 2024. But Grewe said GM will try to synthesize the lithium for its batteries as “quickly as it can, trying to beat [2024]” if possible.

The race to find new and environmentally friendly sources of lithium in California has been called a “white gold rush”

The race to find new and environmentally friendly sources of lithium in California has been called a “white gold rush,” with companies intent on producing millions of electric vehicle batteries looking to secure a piece of the process. This rising demand has also triggered concerns about shortages, with analysts forecasting deficits in the tens of thousands of tons by 2022.

CTR isn’t the first company to try to find a cost-effective way to pull the mineral from the naturally heated waters deep beneath the Salton Sea. One recent example was Simbol Materials, a much-hyped start-up that collapsed in 2015 shortly after Tesla offered to buy the firm for $325 million. (Tesla has since said it would mine its own lithium from clay deposits in Nevada.)

“I’d say the main concerns around lithium extraction from geothermal brines are mostly economic,” said Chris Berry, president of House Mountain Partners and an analyst who focuses on energy metals supply chains. “Investors want to see proven economics before writing big checks to develop projects and battery manufacturers want to see proof of scalable production of battery grade lithium before entering into binding off-take agreements.”

But GM sees the risk worth taking. “It is very difficult,” Grewe said. “It has to cover all of our built in quality metrics that we have at General Motors.”

The automaker recently announced that it would spend $35 billion through 2025 on the development of electric and autonomous vehicles. That includes the construction of two new battery facilities in the US. GM is positioning itself to be the largest manufacturer of EVs in North America, much like it already is for gas-powered vehicles. The automaker has previously said that it hopes to only make zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2035.