Batteries continue to keep us (ATFs) busy. Not just what to do with them, but also who’s responsible for what and who’s the owner of them. And what is allowed if you as ATF are owner?
A lot is said about batteries and probably a lot will be said. Batteries we talk about are mainly the Li-ion traction batteries in Hybrids and Electrical Vehicles (H/EV). Why is there so much ado about these batteries?
The main ingredient of a traction battery is not the lithium (about 3%), but the cobalt. This cobalt is precious and scarce. Another aspect of batteries is their character: High voltage and flammability. Of course batteries are safe enough to even drive around with them and to charge them out of sight, but we all remember the burning ship floating around the Azores.
Dismantling EV batteries from an H/EV is a must and requires knowledge. Dismantling as soon as possible and right way of storage are evident. An unsafe battery needs to be stored in a way that it’s not to be reached by unauthorised people, but easy to reach for collectors and emergency services. The storage needs to be open in case of a fire, but shielded from everything around it that can be destroyed in case of fire. Even good batteries need to be stored in a safe way. Dry, not too hot, not too cold, out of reach or unauthorised people, but easy to reach in case of emergencies and probably some kind of monitoring with temperature or CO2 detectors will be necessary.
We all know about the high voltage of EV batteries. We are trained how to handle them and where safety info can be found. IDIS provides some, but it would be nice if this info can be found easily and in a kind of same format for all H/EVs.
To know how to handle a battery, we need to be able to decide the condition of the battery. We need to know if the battery is bad, unstable, repairable, worn, damaged or whatever state it’s in. We need to have equipment for this and access to protocols to check the state. EV batteries can’t just be read. At least, not the most existing ones. And even if they have this feature, many arrive in a severely damaged state, so the car system can’t be read and the battery needs to be checked separately.
Flammability is something to consider, especially as most EVs reaching our yards are accident vehicles. There is a risk of a li-ion battery catching fire spontaneously. We need to be trained to recognise unstable batteries, how to store these vehicles and to dismantle them as soon as possible and store them in a safe way and have them collected as soon as possible.
Ownership of batteries is a new item in the car world. ELV’s have their own Directive (soon to be a car regulation as it will probably merge with the Type Approval Directive, Right to Repair and Design for Recycling), but so have (traction) batteries. As a car is a product of it’s own, 2 different laws decide how to handle a car. None of them however describes battery ownership as far as we know. But some producers claim they stay owner. In fact, we see a transition where owning a car moves to access to transport. It seems access to materials is next step for producers. This has 2 sides: 1. Products have the smallest footprint when they live long. But in case of car batteries that can only be used as traction battery as long as their capacity is over 70%, older batteries go to second life. And cobalt is scarce. If too much cobalt is locked up in power stations or home storage devices and techniques develop to more efficient batteries, it’s a problem to produce (for instance) 4 new efficient batteries out of an old inefficient battery, if it’s used in some stationary device on 25% for another 10 years. This could be a reason for producers to get more grip on batteries or accessible cobalt stock.
ATF’s should be free to sell batteries to authorised parties. If an EV battery can be reused, it needs to be sold to a garage that is authorised to work on EVs. If the battery cannot be reused for traction, it needs to be possible to sell it to a remanufacturer or second life producer. And if the battery is really bad it must be possible to sell it to an authorised collector or recycler. Also transport needs to be done with an authorised transporter. But it must always be the choice of the dismantler and this dismantler needs to prove the battery is sold to and transported by an authorised party.
Of course the transporter needs to be certified. But who will pay the transport? In case of unstable batteries we think the costs need to be covered as part of EPR. In some countries it’s being taken care of, but the last word is probably not spoken.
But Li-ion batteries can be found in other applications as well, in both H/EV and ICE! For instance, some brands have small li-ion starter batteries. These cannot be placed in the battery box among lead-acid batteries. But many backup batteries (often li-ion) can be found in modern cars as well. Think of tire pressure reading, E-call, start circuit breakers, seat heating etc. We need to take them out as they can catch fire in the shredder or being pressed. So we need to know where what types of batteries are put in the car.
We can deliver the service of dismantling EVs because:
- We are the first step in reuse and recycling
- We are equipped and trained to dismantle batteries
- We know where to find information
- We can decide in what state the battery is
- We decide to who we sell