The premium for pure cathode materials is predicted to widen as battery makers swap to designs utilizing cheaper uncooked supplies. Amongst them are LFP batteries, which include lithium, iron, and phosphorus within the cathode, and forgo expensive metals like nickel and cobalt. Kyburz has lengthy used LFP batteries for its automobiles, and larger producers together with Tesla at the moment are following swimsuit. However they’re much less engaging to recyclers due to a budget uncooked supplies. “They’re asking for some huge cash to take them,” Groux says.
Eradicating cathodes from useless batteries, cheaply, requires redesigning batteries from the bottom up. That’s been executed earlier than, Gaines factors out, most notably with lead-acid batteries, the kind used to begin the engines of standard vehicles. Greater than 95 p.c of lead-acid batteries are recycled. One purpose is that producers use standardized designs, that means that recyclers can take nearly any battery and put it via an automatic course of. Recyclers strip out the main elements—lead and polyurethane, a kind of plastic—after which separate them in water-filled vats. It’s easy: Plastic floats; lead sinks.
Lithium-ion batteries are extra difficult, involving extra elements and supplies, and extra selection of their designs. However all the identical, “you don’t need to be an fool and design probably the most troublesome battery to recycle,” says Andy Abbott, a battery researcher on the College of Leicester who research recycling-friendly design. There are easy ways in which battery makers might make life simpler for dismantlers. They may use screws as an alternative of laser welding, for instance, and go for adhesives which can be simpler to take away. However these small adjustments could be among the many most troublesome to make, explains Jeff Spangenberger, who directs the ReCell Middle, as a result of small prices add as much as massive ones at scale. Spending $2 extra per battery for screws, to save lots of $1 deconstructing a battery, merely isn’t value it to the producer—as long as they’re not answerable for the recycling prices.
Groux skilled that drawback at Kyburz not too long ago when he researched making extra highly effective batteries with modules. He wished batteries sealed with screws, however almost all of the Chinese language producers he consulted used laser welding. Nonetheless, an organization like Kyburz has sure benefits. Its automobiles are comparatively low-powered, designed to jaunt round Swiss villages for a pair hours at a time, not blitz throughout the Mojave with out stopping. For probably the most half, the corporate makes use of single giant cells that don’t are available in modules, so that they’re simpler to dismantle. Which means Groux’s machine can do the job in a semi-automated style.
Tesla batteries are, after all, way more difficult. However that doesn’t imply they will’t be designed in methods which can be not less than extra predictable and permit for some automation, explains Abbott. He factors to the “Blade” battery, a brand new sort of LFP battery made by the Chinese language automaker BYD for its passenger vehicles, for example of progress. LFP batteries have recognized benefits: They’re cheaper than cobalt- and nickel-filled batteries, they last more, and they’re typically much less more likely to begin fires. But it surely was thought that they could not retailer sufficient power to energy a automobile for a whole lot of miles—so the Blade took many observers unexpectedly.
To Abbott, one of the crucial thrilling adjustments within the design is that the battery pack just isn’t damaged into modules. As an alternative, the cells are organized in rows immediately contained in the pack. The cells are lengthy and rectangular—therefore “blades”—as an alternative of the cylindrical jelly rolls. BYD discovered it might stuff these rectangles contained in the battery pack extra densely than it might cylinders, to make the general pack extra highly effective. Abbott hasn’t had an opportunity to examine the design immediately, however he suspects the simplified design will make the batteries simpler to take aside. Different corporations, together with Tesla, have mentioned they plan to provide battery packs with out modules, although cell designs range.