To date, electric vehicle battery design has tended to focus on minimizing cost and maximizing range, but with global EV sales projected by BloombergNEF to hit 11 million units by 2025, the question of battery life cycle will be increasingly important from both an environmental and commercial point of view.
Just like the rechargeable batteries in toothbrushes, cameras and mobile phones, the battery packs in EVs don't last forever. After a few hundred charge cycles — around seven years of normal use — a typical EV lithium ion battery pack must be swapped out.
What can be done with this growing pile of expired batteries? Clearly, they cannot simply be thrown away — for one thing that would have a huge environmental impact for a technology whose purpose is sustainability, and for another the batteries are full of increasingly scarce and expensive raw materials that the supply chain can't afford to lose.
Recycling is the standard answer, but although the technology and economics will improve, right now recycling is costly and of very variable efficiency. Only about 5 percent of the world's lithium ion batteries are currently recycled.