SIXTH SYMPOSIUM ON CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND URBAN MINING
10TH ANNIVERSARY / CAPRI, ITALY / 18-20 MAY 2022

FOCUS SESSION IV: Electric vehicles - Which sort of waste do they produce? How can they be recycled?

CINEMA HALL / 20 May 2022 / 10:30 - 11:20
In this session a service of simultaneous translation English - Italian will be provided

Moderator:
Prof. Ian Williams, University of Southampton (UK)

Panelist:
Prof. Marc Rosen, Ontario Tech University (CA)
Dr. Gianluca Torta, Universityof Bologna (IT)


The number of cars in the world has grown from just a few thousand in 1900 to >1.4 billion in 2020. Cars contain myriad valuable materials so at end-of-life these materials can be recovered. This typically happens at authorised facilities. In the European Union (EU), by law, 95% of a car’s weight must be recycled when scrapped. Cars are approximately 75% metal and 25% fluids, plastics, fabrics and rubber by weight. Typical steps in the scrappage process may include: harvesting of components that are still fit for use on other vehicles e.g. tyres/wheels, radios, lights; depollution of hazardous materials; battery removal and reuse/recycling; shredding; removal of magnetic metals; an ”heavy media process” to remove non-ferrous metals and heavy plastics; and vacuum separation of foam, rubber and plastics (~39 different types of plastics and polymers are used in car manufacturing).

However, the global car fleet is changing quickly as we strive to reduce diesel and petrol cars in order to address urban air pollution and climate change. In particular, the electric car market is booming; the global fleet exceeded 5.1 million vehicles in 2018 and is expected to reach 140 million by 2030. The main compositional difference between fossil-fuelled and electric cars is the batteries. Most electric vehicles use Li-ion batteries. Such energy storage systems are essential for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and all-electric vehicles (EVs). It is predicted that by 2030, the worldwide number of used Li-ion batteries will reach ~2 million metric tons annually. In the EU, Directive 2006/66/EC has required since 2006 that at least 50% of the materials contained in used batteries and accumulators be recycled. Producers are mandated to collect used batteries at their own expense before recycling themselves, or via a specialist partner.

The recycling of an electric vehicle’s battery is particularly challenging. Ideally, we should aim to reduce the amount of waste generated by a battery at end-of-life and promote the reuse of as many components and resources involved in its manufacture as possible. However, very little recycling of Li-ion batteries currently occurs; only 2–3% of Li-ion batteries are collected and sent for recycling in Australia, and the recycling rates in the EU and the USA are probably <5%. There are many reasons for this, including logistical issues, technical constraints, economic barriers, and skills/regulatory gaps. Hence, as the Li-ion battery industry lacks a distinct route to large-scale economical recycling, researchers and manufacturers have not engaged on improving recyclability. The focus has instead been on lowering costs and increasing battery longevity and charge capacity. In addition, most Li-ion batteries that get recycled undergo complex, safe disassembly steps prior to an energy intensive, high-temperature melting-and-extraction, or smelting, process similar to those used in the mining industry. These large-scale plants are costly to build and operate, require complex equipment to treat harmful emissions generated by the process and don’t recover all valuable materials.

In this focus session, we will discuss the multiple challenges associated with end-of-life treatment of electric vehicles, including both technical and non-technical issues.