Lithium-Ion

EV Batteries Present Disposal Challenges



PHOTO: NISSAN

While Americans continue to develop more environmentally friendly mind-sets, sales of hybrid and electric vehicles are expected to continue to rise.

JDPower.com analysts predict 940,000 electric-drive vehicles will be sold globally this year, compared to 732,000 units last year. The number is expected to jump to 3 million in 2015.

One concern this may trigger for auto recyclers is the disposal of these vehicles' end-of-life batteries. Traditional vehicles use lead-acid batteries, while hybrids and electrics typically incorporate a nickel metal hydride or lithium-ion battery to generate electric power.

While most hybrid and electric vehicles on the road today still use nickel metal hydride batteries, with technological advances, the lithium-ion batteries are becoming the preferred choice of the auto industry because they can be smaller, lighter and offer more energy and power potential.

The most difficult aspect of recycling lithium-ion batteries, however, is finding a facility to take them. Unfortunately, there are few options available.

Toxco, Inc. (Toxco.com) is the only company in North America with the capability to recycle both rechargeable and non-rechargeable lithium batteries.

"Toxco's system is designed to specifically manage lithium batteries in a safe and environmentally efficient manner," said Todd Coy, executive vice president for Kinsbursky Brothers, Inc. (Kinsbursky.com), Toxco's parent company. "Other recycling systems manage batteries in with their general feedstock, and do not selectively treat lithium batteries."

Coy noted representatives from Toxco are hoping to attend the ARA Convention & Exposition in Charlotte, N.C. this October. The company plans to explore more options to assist auto recyclers with the disposal of lithium-ion batteries.

"Toxco has been in contact with several large automotive recycling companies and is working with industry trade associations to develop ways in which the battery recycling industry and auto recyclers may work together to achieve efficient and low-cost collections for these materials in the coming years," he added.

Toxco maintains recycling facilities in British Columbia, California, Ohio and Tennessee. When Toxco's facilities collect spent lithium batteries, it inventories and stores them in earth-covered concrete bunkers. Then Toxco freezes the batteries, shreds them and separates the battery materials. Both the metals and lithium components are resold.

In August 2009, the Department of Energy awarded Toxco a $9.5 million grant to expand its battery-recycling operations in Lancaster, Ohio. Coy noted that the new facility would manage large-format energy devices used in electric-vehicle applications, and will be operational by the end of the first fiscal quarter of 2012.

"It [will] be important for auto recyclers to familiarize themselves with the safe-handling practices required for the high-energy systems used in the hybrid and electric vehicles." 

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