Technician disassembles an electric vehicle battery with an insulated drill and gloves

Under the Hood: Lithium Power in Electric Vehicles

by Katelyn Tomaszewski

The need for lithium batteries is growing every day. Lithium batteries are used in a wide range of things, including cell phones, laptops, kid’s toys, energy storage solutions, and electric vehicles. Lithium used in today’s batteries is primarily mined, while only a small portion is reused. The biggest lithium producers are Australia, Chile, Argentina, and China. However, our lithium supply isn’t infinite.

What is lithium? How is it used in batteries?

Lithium has been a part of battery innovation since the 1970s. Lithium is an ideal chemical component for batteries because it is highly reactive and is much lighter than other metals used in batteries, such as lead.

Common lithium batteries are made up of 4 parts:

  • Cathode
  • Anode
  • Conduit
  • Separator

These batteries have several important advantages, such as being light in weight, having a lower discharge rate, and having a higher energy density per kilogram (kg). Lithium-ion batteries have grown in popularity due to being low-maintenance with high energy density (150 WH of energy per kg). Lithium batteries also have easy fast charging and a lower environmental impact after production, as compared to energy sources with fossil fuels. They are ideal for EV car batteries because they hold a lot of energy squeezed into a small battery which allows for more energy extraction as opposed to other battery types.

EV Lithium Batteries

With the growth of lithium-based electric vehicles, so comes the need to recycle them. By 2040, it is estimated, more than half of new car sales will be electric vehicles, making it imperative that we set up a recycling stream for them now (Henze, 2018). EV batteries can be broken down, organized, and smelted into raw materials.

Currently, EV batteries that do not get recycled go through a high-temperature melting-and- extraction or smelting process. However, this is a very energy-intensive process, and the production of these plants is very costly not only to make but to run as well. The worst part of this process is that they don’t recover all valuable battery materials. By recycling used EV batteries, we can reduce the need for new mineral extraction and provide the battery market with materials to reuse. The recycling process creates a steady stream of materials from a secondary commodity market, in turn supplying the manufacture of new lithium batteries, supporting corporate sustainability and reducing environmental impact.

Doing Our Part

With the increase in battery use in our everyday lives, it is imperative that we recycle our used batteries, whether EV or regular batteries. To find the sustainable path to recycling your EV batteries, visit our Disassembly Services page or call 800.852.8127.

published 02/26/21