Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Recyclable? Yes Or No?

A study commissioned by engineered battery materials company Ascend Elements found that 47% of Americans think lithium ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) cannot be recycled. On the contrary, EV battery recycling is a booming industry and the key to lowering the carbon footprint of EVs.

Here’s another interesting perception. US consumers think the most valuable parts of an EV battery are lithium, copper, and aluminum. Actually, they’re cathode materials, anode materials, and electrolytes.

My, we have a lot to learn about these EVs and the batteries that power them.

Ascend Elements commissioned an independent research firm to survey a random sample of 1,004 US consumers about their beliefs and attitudes regarding battery technology and EVs.

Thomas Frey, an Ascend Elements spokesperson, told CleanTechnica in an exclusive:

“We’ve seen critics of electric vehicles and renewable energy use these false narratives — like ‘electric vehicle batteries can’t be recycled’ or they are ‘too expensive to recycle’ — to undermine confidence in the clean energy movement. Sometimes these myths and misconceptions are harmless misunderstandings, but other times they are embraced and perpetuated by people who know better.”

Misunderstandings about EVs, the batteries that power them, and the ability of the grid to handle EVs challenge the industry. Future car buyers seem willing to consider buying an EV but also express significant sources of hesitation based on perceptions that may or may not be accurate.

Perceptions About EVs

46% say electric vehicles will outsell gasoline-powered cars in their lifetime. Demand for EVs is growing fast, and many industry analysts agree EVs will outsell gas-powered vehicles by 2040.

59% say EVs are better for the environment than gas-powered cars. More than 90% of US drivers live in regions where driving an EV is like getting 59 miles per gallon in a typical car.

59% say EVs will save them money over the lifetime of the vehicle. Charging an EV is approximately 3.5 times cheaper per mile than the cost of fueling a gas-powered car. In the long term, opting for an electric vehicle over a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle can save you a huge amount of money.

50% of US consumers say owning an EV means they’ll need to wait in long lines for charging stations. Unlike gas stations, electric vehicle charging can be dispersed over larger areas and incorporated into parking lots and cityscapes, giving EV drivers many options for charging.

53% say their attitude toward EVs is more positive than it was just 3 years ago. People are eager to learn about EVs and how they can fit into the average US consumer’s lifestyle.

53% of US consumers think EVs are more expensive to repair. EV motors are virtually maintenance free compared to internal combustion engines. The average amount of money spent on maintenance per EV in the first three years is $77 — significantly lower than the $228 average for gas vehicles.

47% of US consumers think too many EVs will overwhelm the power grid. EVs are most likely to be charged overnight at home, which is the time of day with the lowest demand for electricity. Just because a car is plugged in does not mean it is drawing power from the grid. Every electric car sold in the US allows owners to schedule when charging begins and ends.

Recycling: Household & Elsewhere

lithium ion batteries

Graphics provided by Ascend Elements

34% of Americans mistakenly believe lithium-ion batteries can be recycled in the household recycling bin. In fact, they contain hazardous materials and should never be placed in the household recycling bin.

27% think it is okay to put used lithium-ion batteries in the household trash. Because they contain hazardous materials, they should never be placed in the trash.

54% of US consumers are concerned about what we will do with all these lithium-ion EV batteries after they reach end of life. Eventually, the battery will reach its end of life and should be recycled, recovering minerals to then go back into the battery manufacturing stream. The circular process starts at manufacturing, flows to the first use in an EV, is repurposed for a second life, recycled, and then eventually the minerals are back to manufacturing. This is referred to as material circularity or the circular economy.

48% of US consumers think that EVs will cause toxic landfills full of old lithium-ion batteries. Actually, they are recyclable and highly valuable. Recycling companies are paying for used EV batteries. Used batteries are becoming a new source of critical battery materials.

37% don’t understand that recycled lithium-ion battery materials can be used to make new EV batteries. Yet companies are recycling old consumer electronics batteries and converting the material into new, battery-ready cathode material for new EV batteries.

39% of Americans understand that the critical materials in lithium-ion EV batteries can be recycled over and over without performance loss. Battery materials like lithium, nickel and cobalt are infinitely recyclable. The critical materials in lithium-ion EV batteries can be recycled over and over without performance loss.

Green Quotient Of Lithium-Ion Batteries

40% of US consumers say lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries aren’t really “greener” than internal combustion engines. Many studies have shown EVs to be better for the environment over the lifetime of the vehicle.Manufacturing an electric vehicle battery actually creates more carbon emissions than manufacturing an internal combustion engine. However, over the lifetime of the vehicle, EVs have a far lower environmental impact. In time, increased use of recycled battery materials will reduce the carbon footprint of new EV batteries.

59% of US consumers think that Lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries make cars more expensive. It’s true that new EVs are about 38% more expensive than new internal combustion engine vehicles, but eventually increased use of recycled battery metals will help lower the cost — and carbon footprint — of EV batteries.

Comparison To Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs)

51% of US consumers say lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries don’t offer as much range as internal combustion engines. Range anxiety is a legitimate concern for many drivers, but installation of a nationwide fast-charge infrastructure will help alleviate concerns.

41% of US consumers think electric vehicles are too small and slow compared to gas powered cars. Many EV models offer more power and acceleration than traditional internal combustion engine models. While many consumers may have visions of the first generation EVs in mind, today’s battery electric vehicles can be fast (Tesla Model S Plaid) or large (Ford F-150 Lightning).

40% of US consumers say the batteries in electric vehicles are more dangerous than the gasoline in internal combustion engine vehicles. Both gasoline and lithium-ion batteries are hazardous and must be handled with care.

Perceptions About Lithium-Ion Batteries

38% of US consumers think that lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries are sourced using destructive mining techniques. Use of recycled battery materials in new EV batteries promises to reduce the need for mining.Use of recycled battery materials in new EV batteries promises to reduce the social justice impacts of mining.

43% of US consumers think that manufacturing an EV uses a lot more energy than manufacturing a similar-sized gas powered vehicle. It’s true: manufacturing an EV uses more energy than manufacturing a similar-sized gas-powered vehicle. Use of recycled materials in new batteries promises to reduce the carbon-footprint of EVs dramatically.

44% of US consumer think that it is more expensive to make new lithium-ion batteries using recycled lithium-ion battery materials. Companies can manufacture new lithium-ion battery materials at a lower cost compared to traditional cathode manufacturing methods.

45% of US consumers think the US isn’t competitive when it comes to manufacturing lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries. Asia dominates the world lithium-ion battery market currently, but significant investments in the US infrastructure have been made in 2022.

48% of US consumers think that across all product types, recycled products are not as good as new ones. Recycled EV batteries have been shown to perform just as well as batteries made with virgin materials. Independent studies have shown EV battery cells made with recycled materials perform just as well as battery cells made with new materials.

The Ascend survey was conducted in August, 2022. The margin of error for this study is +/-3% at the 95% confidence level.


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