Tesla’s 2020 Impact Report has some important new revelations to make about the company’s near-future plans. The one about the Tesla Semi Megcharger network we have already reported, the other one is the recycling of used battery cells.
Since the materials used in an electric vehicle battery cell i.e. Lithium, Cobalt, and Nickel (Lithium, Iron, Phosphate for LFP batteries) are recyclable, Tesla has now shared their plans of battery recycling in this new report. According to Tesla, this recycling will be 100% done in-house and will not be outsourced to other vendors.
A common question we receive is: “What happens to Tesla battery packs once they reach the end of their life?”. An important distinction between fossil fuels and lithium-ion batteries as an energy source is that while fossil fuels are extracted and used once, the materials in a lithium-ion battery are recyclable. When petroleum is pumped out of the ground, chemically refined, and then burned, it releases toxic emissions into the atmosphere that are not recoverable for reuse. Battery materials, in contrast, are refined and put into a cell and will remain in the cell at the end of their life when they can be recycled to recover valuable material for reuse repeatedly.2020 Tesla Impact Report (PDF here / page 25).
Yes, that’s correct, the metals and material inside a Li-ion battery don’t just evaporate into thin air and create hazardous pollution, they mostly stay intact inside the cell and are recyclable.
In 2020 alone, Tesla sent 1,300 tons of Nickel, 400 tons of Copper, and 80 tons of Cobalt for recycling as the Lithium-ion battery metals were extracted from end-of-life car battery packs (Source: 2020 Impact Report PDF, page 26).
Since the average lifespan of a vehicle in the United States is around 12 years or 200,000 miles (321,869 km), Tesla EV batteries are designed to last the entire life of the vehicle. EVs and especially Teslas tend to last a little more, around 300,000 miles (482,803 km).
The Bureau of Transportation indicates that the average age across the board for vehicles still on the road is just over 11 years according to Autotrader, and the average may be approaching 12 years. Standard cars in this day and age are expected to keep running up to 200,000 miles, while cars with electric engines (EVs) are expected to last for up to 300,000 miles.Source: CarAndDriver research.
A Tesla Model 3 was found to have incurred only a 2% battery degradation after 50,000 miles (80,467 km) on the odometer. Besides getting the best batteries manufactured through its suppliers (Panasonic, LG, and CATL) — Tesla engineers constantly work to improve car battery efficiency via over-the-air software updates. Software-based fine-tuning is a big part of Tesla’s success in gaining longevity and more range out of its vehicle battery packs.
Every Tesla battery factory will recycle batteries on site
As the manufacturer of our in-house cell program, we are best positioned to recycle our products efficiently to maximize key battery material recovery. With the implementation of in-house cell manufacturing at Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg and Gigafactory Texas, we expect substantial increases in manufacturing scrap globally. We intend to tailor recycling solutions to each location and thereby re-introduce valuable materials back into our manufacturing process.
Our goal is to develop a safe recycling process with high recovery rates, low costs, and low environmental impact. From an economic perspective, we expect to recognize significant savings over the long term as the costs associated with large-scale battery material recovery and recycling will be far lower than purchasing additional raw materials for cell manufacturing,” Tesla explained.2020 Tesla Impact Report (PDF here / page 26).
Co-founder JB Straubel with some other top executives from the automaker left Tesla to form a lithium-ion battery recycling company named Redwood Materials. But with Elon Musk’s plans of recycling their EV batteries in-house, Redwood is not going to get a big recycling contract from Tesla (TSLA).
I remember the late legendary engineer Jack Rickard of EVTV used to produce some great home energy solutions using salvage Tesla batteries coupled with solar energy. It’s not necessary to re-install recycled batteries in cars again, Tesla can use them in its Powerwall, Powerpack, and Megapack energy products as well.