Core Value

Recyclers Need To Responsibly Deal With Hybrid Batteries

Every time the auto industry engineers something new, you can bet auto recyclers will need to know how to deal with it at the vehicle’s end-of-life. The newest technology is lithium batteries, which powers some of the electric and hybrid vehicles manufactured since 2012. While nickel metal hydride (NMH) batteries have been around since 2000, (in vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Escape Hybrid), it’s this newest battery that can pose a bigger threat to an auto recycler’s safety and the environment if it’s not properly disposed of.

“As an industry, we’ve got to get our act together before we start seeing a lot of lithium batteries coming off vehicles,” stressed Eric Sumpter, owner of Adopt A Part in Denver, Colo. which specializes in recycling and repairing hybrid vehicles. “Th is is so important because lithium batteries need special care.”

There are several types of lithium batteries, used in the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf for example, but the element itself is toxic. It posts an environmental hazard if left in a vehicle. Sumpter also said there is a huge safety issue as well because, aside from electrocution, these batteries can cause a fire even if they are not connected.

“Under no circumstances should an auto recycler crush a car with a battery still in it,” Sumpter added. “It’s a fire hazard and an environmental hazard. We’ve seen nightmares of lethal dangers waiting to happen.”

Sumpter stated that it is the auto recycler’s responsibility to get those cores back and return the bad ones a qualified facility for-end-of-life recycling, but, he acknowledged that’s easier said than done. Currently there are a limited number of facilities that will take hybrid batteries.

“The recycled value of a hybrid battery isn’t really large,” he said. “The batteries are heavy and expensive to ship. Recyclers also don’t know if it will be profitable.”

That’s why Sumpter is working with the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) to put a program into place involving both the auto recycling industry and the OEMs that will give auto recyclers an incentive to recycle these hybrid battery cores.

“We are trying to establish a process where these cores get returned and recycled,” he said. “We want this in place nationwide before lithium batteries get to the recycling process.” 

Sumpter thinks the influx of lithium batteries will be at the end-of-life stage in about four to five years. 

Until then, Sumpter stressed that it is imperative that these batteries, both lithium and NMH, should not be left just sitting around in yards. His company does buy some battery cores, but he has the training the tools to remanufacture and recycle them.

“We screen the good modules, from the bad modules,” he explained. “Then we make sure the bad ones are properly recycled.”

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