Can electric car batteries be recycled?

Can electric car batteries be recycled?

Electric vehicles are quickly becoming the go-to for many car buyers. Gas prices and environmental concerns are strong motivators for people to give up gas and go electric, but the segment is so new that there are still big unanswered questions. One has to do with the batteries that power the latest EVs hitting the market. Can electric car batteries be recycled?

Just like a mobile phone, EVs have lithium-ion batteries that can store energy and recharge once it’s spent. The problems arise when those batteries become so used that they can no longer provide an adequate range for EVs. The big, heavy batteries present a clear danger to the environment, so recycling has become a popular goal in the industry.

At the same time, recycling batteries is not cheap, efficient, nor quick. That will change in time, but for now, there’s work to do. Costs should eventually fall once there are enough EVs on the road to create benefits of scale, and there are uses for batteries once their lives powering electric vehicles come to an end.

Read more: Electric car glossary: EV batteries, charging stations, PHEVs explained


Tesla claims it can recycle up to 92% of the materials inside its batteries and has said that none end up in landfills. While that may or may not be entirely accurate, companies are working to reduce costs and increase the number of materials that can be safely reused.

Currently, a battery takes a few main avenues once it reaches the end of its useful life. Three of the most prominent are included below.

EV battery recycling

Currently, the only EV battery material worth recycling is cobalt. That leaves lithium, manganese, and nickel, among a host of other materials that may not be economically recyclable or require additional processing that drives cost. That’s not only bad for the environment since there is a ton of leftover material, it’s also bad for recyclers because unless there’s a buyer lined up for lithium and manganese, they could be out of luck.

Read more: How much electric car range do you really need?

The two main methods for recycling batteries involve either extreme temperatures or acid. Both processes generate emissions and create waste, which can end up in the environment. Then there’s the matter of economics, as many battery companies look to use less cobalt. If that ends up being the case, recyclers’ already meager profit margins will take a beating. There is a method known as direct recycling, which leaves the cathode mixture intact, but it’s not yet ready for primetime.