Is recycling electric car batteries an emerging market?

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Photograph of a lithium-ion car battery sitting on a table.

Example of a lithium-ion electric car battery. (Photo: Flickr)

Some people are worried that when the lithium-ion electric car batteries reach the end of their automotive life cycle, these green vehicles will create a massive wave of new litter. According to Green Car Reports, this concern has been raised over upcoming vehicles like the 2011 Nissan Leaf, 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. However, since lithium-ion packs retain much of their energy capacity even after they can no longer operate an electric car, potential for recycling electric car batteries remains.

Recycling electric car batteries could become a huge green industry

By the end of the current decade, predicts Scientific American, recycling lithium-ion electric car batteries could help provide “energy accumulators for photovoltaic solar panels or wind turbines.” That translates into power that can be generated, stored and used all in the same place, which is very much in keeping with America’s green goals. An infrastructure for the electric car battery recycling industry will need to be built up, but Green Car Reports suggests following the lead of the lead-acid car battery recycling industry that’s already in place.

12-Volt lead-acid car batteries are the most recycled item in the world

That’s what Scientific American reports, and considering that 70 million or more cars are built each year with lead-acid batteries under the hood, that makes sense. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backs this up, too. Their records indicate that 100 million lead-acid car batteries are turned in each year, and 99 percent of those are recycled. About 97 percent of the lead is recyclable, while the sulfuric acid can be turned into sodium sulfate, which is used in fertilizer and dyes. Plastic cases can also be recycled easily, but the tricky part is the acid. The Blacksmith Institute says the waste product produced if a lead-acid battery is not dismantled properly contributes to one of Earth’s 10 worst pollutants. Thankfully, lithium-ion electric car batteries are “essentially non-toxic,” writes Green Car Reports.

Toyota has the right idea

Despite the massive difficulties the Japanese automaker has experienced due to sudden acceleration problems, Toyota is actually among the leaders in being prepared for the upcoming lithium-ion electric car battery recycling industry. This is largely due to the popularity of their Prius hybrid.

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