Can Electric Car Batteries Be Recycled?

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler  | 
Electric car being charged
©iStockphoto.com/Alexey Dudoladov
DCL

Happily, the answer is yes -- the batteries that power electric cars (and hybrids, for that matter) can be recycled. For decades, the few electric vehicles that were on the road were powered by lead-acid batteries. The latest models, with their lighter weight and longer range, use lithium-ion batteries, just like laptops and cell phones. In either case, the batteries that power electric cars can be recycled.

In the case of the older-technology lead-acid batteries, 96 percent of the materials in the battery -- including the nasty lead -- is recovered. To compare, only 38 percent of the material in glass bottles is recovered in the recycling process. They can also be recharged and reused before being recycled. Hybrid cars currently on the road, like the Toyota Prius, use nickel metal hydride batteries, which can be dismantled and recycled in much the same way.

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When the battery packs in a lithium-ion-powered vehicle are deemed too worn out for driving, they still have up to 80 percent of their charge left. So before they ever get to a recycling center, these batteries are used to prop up the grid, especially alongside energy sources that may not be quite as steady, like wind or solar power. The batteries can store power to help the flow of electricity stay on an even keel rather than ebb and flow with the weather.

Since lithium-ion battery-powered cars are just now coming to the mass market, the recycling centers that can reclaim their components are still in their infancy, too. Toxco, a big lead-acid battery recycler, is set to open the first lithium-ion battery recycling plant in the U.S. Companies like Tesla Motors, which has had lithium-powered electric sports cars on the road for a couple of years now, already sends its spent batteries to Toxco's current facilities for recycling.

When lithium-ion batteries reach a recycling plant, there are two ways to pulverize them. If they are completely without a charge, they're simply shredded so that the metal components, like copper and steel, can be easily sorted out. If the batteries could still possibly have a charge, though, they're frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed to frozen bits (cool!). The liquid nitrogen is so cold, the batteries can't react, so the smashing is safe. And probably fun. Then the metals are separated out for reuse.

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Originally Published: Dec 6, 2011

Electric Car Battery FAQ

Can I recycle batteries at Home Depot?
Home Depot stores offer a car battery recycle option where customers can drop their old batteries off at any designated drop-off location and Home Depot contractors will recycle it. The program is non-profit, which means you may not get paid for recycling here.
Can you get money for old car batteries?
You can get money for your old battery equal to the scrap value of the battery. Your local scrap yard will give you around $7 to $9 per battery since they are only interested in the lead core.
What is the current price for scrap batteries?
When scrapping your battery, you can expect to get paid between 21 cents and 46 cents per pound. A car battery usually weighs around 45 lbs, so you can get between $9.45 to $20.70 for a battery that no longer works.
Can you get paid to recycle batteries?
There are actually several battery recyclers (other than your local scrap yard) that will pay you to recycle your old batteries. Battery Recyclers of America, for example, pays based on the material they need, per pound.
What do you do with used car batteries?
If you got your battery replaced by a professional mechanic or workshop, they will often offer to keep the battery and scrap it themselves. Some battery sellers also accept old batteries to offset the price of a new one.
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