Article written by Effective Media. The analyzes and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and not those of OPENLANE Europe.
There is no doubt that the future is electric. But the path between today and that future is not without some challenges. So what is on the horizon?
Demand for electric cars is rising rapidly. In the first months of the year, one in five cars sold in Europe was an electrified vehicle (PHEV or 100% electric). The majority of these are in the name of EVs, which account for 77% of sales within the “electrified vehicles” category, the remaining 23% are in the name of plug-in hybrids. And, the second-hand market too is slowly picking up steam – not as fast as for new cars yet, but that’s because the first electric cars with a decent range are only now finding their way into the second-hand market. Over its entire lifetime, an electric car is more ecological than a car with a fuel engine, but it still presents some environmental challenges.
Since 2006, a European directive has stipulated that at least 50% of the materials in used batteries and accumulators must be recycled. This directive also stipulates that the producer – i.e. the car manufacturer – is obliged to collect the used batteries at their own expense and recycle them.
But how does this recycling take place? Lithium-ion batteries can be used in electric buses or cars for at least seven to ten years. Most of them will still have about 80% of their original capacity after that. It may not be enough for an EV, especially if it is an older model with a rather limited range, but it is more than enough for other applications.
For example: 4,200 solar panels have been installed on the roof of the Johan Cruijff Arena, Ajax Amsterdam’s football stadium. They generate power during the day, although the power is mainly used in the evening, when the football team is playing or for the stadium lighting and the various screens and food stands. That is precisely why the electricity produced during the day is stored in the batteries of old Nissan LEAFs!
Recycling is one thing, but can you repair a faulty battery? A lot of research and development is being done on this at the moment. At a Battery Repair Center (BRC), complete vehicles with a defective battery are delivered. Once the vehicle arrives at the BRC, it is dismantled using a special lift table and fitting pins. Before starting the repair, the battery is made safe to work on in several stages.
The repair process itself is essentially a replacement process. Individual cells that are defective are not replaced. They form modules of 8, 16 or 32 cells connected in series. When the module containing the defective cell(s) is found, the entire module is replaced.
Ethically sound materials
The extraction of battery materials also poses some challenges. Today’s lithium-ion batteries are composed of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and these rare materials are not readily available. For example, lithium is mainly mined in the salt deserts of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina – often called the ‘lithium triangle’ – while cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The extraction process for these rare minerals can have significant environmental and human rights impacts, including enormous water consumption, potential short-term negative impacts to fauna and flora and, in some cases, labor in extremely dangerous conditions. For these reasons, many parties — from local NGOs to vehicle manufacturers and others — are advocating for more ethical and responsible sourcing of these rare minerals.
A second life
The best recycling is, of course, giving the whole car a second life. The electric cars you find on the second-hand market today have an autonomy of about 300 to 400 km, and after four to eight years of service, at least 80 to 90% of that remains. In other words, they are certainly not written off for daily use and come at a price that is much cheaper than a new EV. Have you already looked in OPENLANE’s auction?