Hybrid Vehicle Battery Recycling Set for Take Off in U.S.

With hybrid and electric vehicle markets continuing to grow in the U.S., the number of batteries in these vehicles that eventually will need to be recycled is rising.

18 June 2012

With hybrid and electric vehicle markets continuing to grow in the U.S., the number of batteries in these vehicles that eventually will need to be recycled is rising.
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According to a recent report  by car industry analysts Edmonds, while the heaviest volumes of discarded batteries are still years away from hitting recycling plants, the first set of aged and failed batteries from hybrids built over a decade ago are giving the automotive and recycling industries an opportunity to prepare for the coming storm.

"There are signs that the batteries in the very earliest Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids are starting to go, but those cars were sold in relatively small numbers," explained Edmunds green car Analyst John O'Dell.

"Just 19,000 Insights and 33,000 Prius models were sold in the U.S. through the 2003 model year. That's not yet enough to feed a commercial recycling industry," he added.

Edmunds said that it estimates that over two million conventional and plug-in hybrids and electric cars are on the road in the U.S. today, a number that will continue to grow.

Automakers sold more than 193,000 hybrids and EVs in the first five months of 2012, easily setting a record for the biggest January-to-May sales volume, despite the heavy price premiums for some of these vehicles.

"Over the long term, recycling will play an important role in reducing the costs of hybrids and EVs," continued O'Dell. "The reuse of the metals and rare-earth compounds that make these batteries work will help keep costs down, and the market for used batteries also will help prop up the resale value of electric-drive vehicles, which is a definite plus for consumers."

According to Edmunds, while experts don't expect a viable commercial recycling market for hybrid and EV batteries for at least another decade, large recycling firms like Umicore and Toxco are testing and developing efficient processes to recycle the batteries before they hit their plants in heavy volumes.

Additionally the analysts said that these companies are also beginning to expand their operations in the U.S. to accommodate the inevitable jumps in volume.

Umicore is said to be building a new facility in North Carolina to break down battery packs before shipping the components to its headquarters plant in Belgium for recycling, while Toxco is increasing capacity to develop lithium-ion battery recycling processes at its plant in Lancaster, Ohio, under a $9.5 million federal grant.

Edmunds reported that once battery recycling gets underway in earnest, it should be a painless process for consumers. Auto dismantlers and designated recyclers will handle all the recycling; the car owner won't have to do anything except get the vehicle and its faltering battery to a dealer.

Read More

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As renewable energy finally takes off, China, which controls 97% of the global supply of rare earth elements, vital to much renewable technology, has tightened supply. As industry and governments around the world scramble for solutions, the complex process of recycling rare earths has moved into the spotlight. Ben Messenger investigates.

Car Battery Recycling Facility Due to Open in South Carolina
Wisconsin based Johnson Controls, a global automotive battery supplier and recycler, is due to open a fully integrated automotive battery recycling center in Florence, South Carolina this summer.


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