As with hybrids, it’s impossible to know exactly how long an EV battery will last, but most manufacturers offer an eight-year warranty.
When EV batteries come to the end of their life, they can be remanufactured and repurposed for a second life in a different application. While batteries in household items like laptops and mobile phones have just one life, EV batteries can retain 70 to 80 per cent of their original capacity. Although no longer appropriate for powering an electric vehicle, that’s more than enough capacity for less-demanding applications such as renewable energy storage and emergency backup power.
EV manufacturers including BMW, Volkswagen Group, Renault, Nissan and Hyundai are exploring different ways to use EV batteries in their second life, including for residential, commercial and grid-scale energy storage. Nissan, for example, uses old batteries to power street lighting in Japan, while battery modules from Volvo hybrids have been used to store rooftop solar to power elevators and lights. GM backs up its Michigan data centre using old Chevrolet Volt batteries.
Australian company Relectrify repurposes end-of-life EV batteries into secondary uses, via partnerships with the Volkswagen Group and 4R Energy (a subsidiary of Nissan).
Eventually, second-life batteries run out of juice for good, but even then they can be recycled for their raw materials such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese. Volkswagen says about 70 per cent of the raw materials from its batteries can be reclaimed, and it’s hoping to increase that to just under 100 per cent soon. EV giant Tesla’s battery cells, modules and battery packs are recycled at end of life, rather than getting a second use. Locally, Envirostream, a subsidiary of lithium battery cathode maker and exporter, Lithium Australia, recycles end-of-life battery components to create a true circular economy for batteries.
When it comes to regulation relating to end-of-life EV batteries, Australia is lagging other more advanced markets. China – the world’s biggest EV market by some margin – is developing policy to track the life of EV batteries and support recovery and recycling plants, while Europe has made car manufacturers responsible for the life cycles of their EV batteries.
But Campbell James, head of product innovation and engineering with RACV’s car battery partner, Club Assist, believes there is reason to be optimistic. He says while it is important to continue to develop technology to extend the life of EV batteries and to increase options for repurposing and recycling at the end of their life, Club Assist research indicates that the environmental impact of EV batteries is already low and continually improving.
He adds that further environmental benefits will come as EV batteries play an increasing role in integrating renewable energy into our everyday lives. He says emerging “vehicle-to-grid” technology will enable an EV to be charged using rooftop solar energy during the day, with the car battery acting as a store for energy that can be returned to the grid or used to power household needs at night. “It truly is an exciting time as the way we capture, store and use energy continues to evolve towards a sustainable future.”