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Tech expert reveals the fate of certain old EV batteries when they die: 'The process is fascinating'

Once the batteries are shredded, the resulting fragments flow through a stream of the liquid.

Once the batteries are shredded, the resulting fragments flow through a stream of the liquid.

Photo Credit: @JerryRigEverything / Youtube

The electric vehicle sector is taking off in the United States, with the 918,500 in the light electric vehicle category sold in the country in 2022 marking a record high, according to Statista.

While the market is beginning to thrive, some EVs will be taken off the road for reasons such as accidents or mechanical faults. 

So, what happens to an EV battery when this happens? Can it be recycled, or does it just head straight to the landfill? 

Li-Cycle, reportedly North America's largest lithium-ion battery resource recovery company, opened its doors to the JerryRigEverything (@JerryRigEverything) YouTube channel to demonstrate just how the process works. 

As channel host Zack Nelson explains, the company specializes in the huge battery packs found inside EVs, but it also takes smaller batteries from other sources like cellphones, laptops, and tools — even burned or damaged ones.

In the video, Nelson says, "the process is fascinating," and soon afterward shows an EV battery being lifted onto a conveyor belt and taken up with the other smaller batteries toward the mouth of an enormous shredder filled with a proprietary liquid. This process means that a human is not required for disassembly, keeping them safe from any harmful chemicals found inside. 

Once the batteries are shredded, the resulting fragments flow through a stream of the liquid, and vibrations are used to separate the plastic material to the surface, which is then transferred to a chute for further recycling later on. 

Meanwhile, metal pieces of aluminum, steel, and copper sink to the bottom of the liquid and are eventually removed by another conveyor belt. Gold, platinum, and palladium can also be found in this mixture, having been extracted from circuit boards.

The lithium, nickel, and cobalt, which are essential in the production of EV batteries, are extracted from the proprietary liquid near the start of the process by a filter press. The liquid is then squeezed out and leaves behind something called "black mass," which features all of the valuable battery metals that can be reused in new batteries. 

According to Nelson, 95% of the lithium batteries that go through this process end up being completely recycled, and it takes 70% less emissions to recycle and reuse battery parts than it does to mine them from the Earth. 

The facility in Arizona that Nelson visited can process up to 18,000 tons of black mass annually, and the material is sent to a soon-to-be-completed factory in Rochester, New York, where it will once again become ready to be used in a lithium battery. 

It's a fascinating process, and the video is well worth a watch. It's also a good idea to share it with anyone who doubts the viability of recycling electric vehicles when they reach the end of the road.  

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