Project at a Glance

Title: Reclamation of automotive batteries: Assessment of health impacts and recycling technology. Task 1: Assessment of recycling technology. Task 2: Assessment of health impacts

Principal Investigator / Author(s): Pera, Charlotte

Contractor: Acurex Environmental Corp.

Contract Number: 93-323

Research Program Area: Emissions Monitoring & Control, Health & Exposure

Topic Areas: Health Effects of Air Pollution, Mobile Sources & Fuels, Toxic Air Contaminants


This final report for Task 1: Assessment for Recycling Technology provides an assessment of current electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling technology for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and CalStart. As a result of CARB's requirements for the sale of zero-emissions vehicles K (ZEVs) beginning in 1998, it projected that California's on-road fleet of EVs will increase significantly between the years of 1998 and 2003. The purpose of the Task 1 effort was to examine approximately ten different candidate EV battery technologies based on their performance and recyclability and to develop a ranking of the batteries based on these examinations. The batteries evaluated were lead-acid (all types), nickel-cadmium, nickel-iron, nickel metal hydride, sodium-sulfur, sodium-nickel chloride, lithium-iron disulfide, lithium-ion, lithium polymer, and zinc batteries (zinc-air and zinc-bromine). The results of Task I will assist in determining where efforts should be focused in establishing new recycling facilities and developing cleaner technologies. Presently recycling facilities for lead-acid batteries are located in California. A nickel-containing battery recycler exists in Pennsylvania, but additional capacity will probably be required for these batteries. Minimal capacity exists to accommodate zinc-air B and various lithium batteries. A facility located in British Columbia, Canada recycles lithium batteries. However, additional facilities will almost assuredly be necessary if lithium batteries are use 1 extensively in EVs. A market assessment was performed to find what markets exist, if any, for the recycled products. This assessment also helped to determine if it would be feasible for recycling efforts to rely on the sale of the product to sustain themselves, or if a battery deposit would be necessary to subsidize the process. The value of materials from recycled batteries is not stable enough to fully support recycling efforts. Therefore, we recommend that a deposit of $100 to $150 should be levied on light-duty vehicle batteries to ensure that these batteries are returned for recycling. All of the batteries under study exhibit the characteristic of hazardous waste in California, and are therefore subject to strict regulations, but this status could change with the finalization of a new EPA rule, the Universal Waste Rule. In the final ranking of the batteries' performance and recyclability, lithium-ion batteries are rated highly for performance, but score only average in terms of recyclability, since only one facility currently recycles this battery and the recycling products may flood the market. Similarly, lithium-polymer batteries are rated very well for performance but poorly for recyclability, since large EV sizes of this battery are not even produced yet, let alone recycled. Lead-acid batteries are rated the highest for recyclability but are ranked poorly on performance. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are rated with moderately high marks for both performance and recyclability. It should be noted that the rankings and scores generated in this report are intended for comparative and qualitative use only. The assessment methodology used in this report is based on current technology and the limited data that is available. Task 2 (Assessment of Health Impacts) for this study will provide an overall assessment of health and hazard impacts of deploying each battery type. The analysis will result in a ranking of the batteries will account for toxic and hazard attributes associated with each battery's potential recycle and disposal chain.

For questions regarding this research project, including available data and progress status, contact: Research Division staff at (916) 445-0753

Stay involved, sign up with CARB's Research Email Distribution List