The Race to Find a Sustainable
Car Battery Recycling Solution
Have you ever pondered car batteries and exactly how they work? In a car battery, chemical energy is converted into electrical energy, and even when the battery has had its day, the chemicals still remain, and some of these can be hazardous.
Batteries used to be sent to landfill but a much-needed change in regulations has meant that now, batteries have to be recycled and their components should be reused wherever possible.
But the question is, is battery recycling sustainable, and what effect will the emergence of electric vehicles have on battery usage and disposal?
Why battery recycling is important
The active chemicals in car batteries are lead dioxide and sulphuric acid, and other components include silver, plastic casing, and water. If a car battery is dumped on a landfill site, it will break down and lead and acidic water will leach into the ground and waterways. Acid can harm plants and wildlife, and if lead finds its way into the food chain it’s potentially harmful for us.
How car batteries are recycled
Recycling car batteries uses far less resources than making new ones, even though it can be a difficult and hazardous process. A crusher breaks the batteries up and the lead, silver, acidic water, and plastic are separated. The acid is neutralised and the water is purified, the lead and silver are melted down to be reused in new batteries, and the plastic is melted down into pellets which are used to make new battery casings.
What the law says about car battery disposal
In 2006, the EU Batteries Directive (Directive 2006/66/EC) was passed, which specified targets and requirements for the recycling of all types of batteries throughout the EU. These requirements became UK law in 2008 and 2009, then in 2010, strict regulations came into effect which governed the obligations of consumers and producers with regards to the handling and disposal of car batteries.
The biggest change in the law was that sending car batteries to landfill or to the incinerator was completely banned. The law also gave the owner of the batteries responsibility for battery disposal, either by taking the battery to an approved recycling facility or sending the battery back to manufacturer for correct disposal.
All battery manufacturers have to register with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and they must take back used batteries with no cost to consumers.
Car battery recycling: the future
The biggest challenge we might face yet when it comes to recycling car batteries is the emergence of electric and hybrid cars which mostly use lithium ion batteries. These batteries are more complex and potentially even more hazardous than standard car batteries. Lithium ion batteries contain metals like cobalt, manganese, nickel and aluminium, and some recycling plants won’t be equipped to handle these combinations.
Some companies are taking the initiative and leading the way in finding viable solutions however. A Belgian materials processing company recently invested £22.6 million into an industrial plant which will remove cobalt and other valuable metals from Tesla and Toyota electric cars.