Musk claims that Tesla 100% recycles used batteries. Experts retort: impossible


Tencent technology news on August 18, in the recently released 2020 impact report, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla claimed that the company has mastered one of the most difficult environmental challenges in electric vehicle manufacturing and can recycle 100% of waste lithium-ion batteries.
In the latest report, Tesla said that it has developed a so-called “closed-loop process”, which will make 100% of its waste batteries do not need to be sent to the landfill. “None of our used lithium-ion batteries have been sent to landfills and 100% have been recycled,” the report said. We actively implement the principle of circular economy. ”
Tesla’s statement was quickly reprinted by the technology and electric vehicle blog, and was greatly praised for it. But it is worth noting that Tesla’s report only points out that 100% of its waste batteries are recycled in some way, but it does not say that every battery is 100% recycled. Tesla said that the ultimate goal of its recovery plan is to achieve “high recovery rate, low cost and low environmental impact”, but did not say how much progress has been made.
Kyle Wiens, CEO of ifixit, a foreign professional dismantling organization, said: “when Tesla claims that it recycles 100% of its used batteries, it means that they are sending batteries to recyclers to recycle raw materials, and then they don’t know where these materials go. Over the years, musk has always stressed: “we need to pull used Tesla cars in from one side of the factory, and then push new cars out from the other side.” This has always been our dream. ”
But scientists and environmentalists say that if we don’t do better in recycling, remanufacturing and reuse, they are worried that a large number of electric vehicle batteries will enter the landfill.
At present, recovering lithium-ion batteries is a very difficult process, and most materials are recycled downward, which means that the materials recovered from electronic products do not necessarily return to electronic products. The main component of most batteries is lithium. This conductor is responsible for generating energy and current to power the equipment. But what gives it power that makes it so difficult to extract? Because there is one more electron in the outer atomic shell of lithium, it continues to expand to other elements, making it difficult to separate it from other components in the battery, such as nickel, cobalt and aluminum.
At present, there are several common lithium-ion battery recovery technologies in the market, including pyrometallurgy (heating and melting parts until raw material separation), hydrometallurgy (soaking the battery in acid until raw material separation) and direct recovery (crushing the battery and physically separating parts). Researchers at the British lithium ion battery reuse and recycling Laboratory (relib) have also recently developed a method using ultrasonic separation.
All these strategies are feasible, but in terms of the scale required to recover the entire electric vehicle battery (weighing more than 1000 pounds), it is expensive, and historically, mining new lithium is cheaper than recycling and reuse.
For Tesla, mastering the recycling method of lithium-ion batteries will mean that the company is significantly reducing its carbon footprint and may begin to reduce the mining required to manufacture electric vehicles and other electronic batteries. By creating a “closed loop” process for the reuse of automotive materials, the company will ensure that it only needs to extract a limited amount of lithium from the earth and that this lithium can be recovered indefinitely, thereby reducing its dependence on mining that occupies large areas of land, consumes large amounts of water resources and may have unknown health effects.
Tesla’s report describes the image of a fully controlled internal recycling system. In this system, waste Tesla car batteries are used to make new batteries. But experts in lithium-ion battery recycling believe that the reality is not so simple.
Tesla’s latest environmental marketing materials claim that the company began to open an internal recycling center at its super factory in sparks, Nevada at the end of 2020 to dispose of waste batteries as a supplement to the existing third-party contract. At present, the company called Redwood materials, led by JB Straubel, former Tesla chief technology officer, recently announced plans to build a recycling facility covering an area of more than 400000 square meters near Tesla’s giant plant.
Experts believe that Tesla may refer to this plan when it refers to recycling waste batteries on site. Tesla wrote in the environmental impact report: “on site recycling brings us one step closer to the goal of closed-loop production. We intend to tailor recycling solutions for each location to reintroduce valuable materials into our manufacturing process.”
Vines said that it is certain that any way of battery recycling is better than landfill. As a conductor, lithium is unstable in an uncontrolled environment, which may lead to landfill fires and release toxic gases into the atmosphere. Lithium ion batteries have become a curse in the eyes of Electronics recyclers around the world. They are often stuck to computers, mobile phones, fitness trackers and other things.
For safe recycling, these batteries need to be removed before being processed by an electronic crusher, because if crushed, the lithium-ion battery will explode. Lithium ion battery fires cause dozens of fires in recycling centers every year, which have become an “increasingly serious global problem”.
However, cooperation with third-party recyclers also means that once the minerals in the battery are sent to the recycler, Tesla may not have too much control over the whereabouts of the minerals in the battery. Tesla’s environmental impact report does not claim that the company is making new batteries from recycled minerals.
Weins added that no modern battery can be 100% recycled, at least adhesives and sealants are non recyclable materials. Although the battery recycling industry is undergoing innovation, it still needs a lot of research and development to reach the 100% recyclable standard. This market is still in its infancy. Expanding the recycling process is not economically feasible for many manufacturers, and changing this requires money and time. “The price of lithium is low enough, but it doesn’t really prove that these chemical metallurgical processes are economical to recover this material,” he said

Dr. Andrew Abbott, Professor of physical chemistry at Leicester University and researcher of relib battery separation, believes that recycling will one day bring huge profits to manufacturers. “There are a lot of processes under development, and the goal is to dismantle batteries in 10 to 15 years, rather than smash them,” he said. The era of electrification is coming soon. But I think it also makes people realize that recycling is preparing for this. ”
A report released in April found that by 2040, battery recycling can reduce the amount of new minerals required by the whole industry, including lithium by 25%, cobalt and nickel by 35% and copper by 55%. This is crucial because mining usually places a great burden on the environment. In the future, recycling centers may completely replace mining. “We only need a technological revolution now, just like the manufacturing revolution we are experiencing now. While manufacturing these lithium batteries, we need to be able to recycle them,” weins added´╝ł Tencent Technology (reviser / Jinlu)