Cars Are Going Electric. What Happens to the Used Batteries?

Excerpt from wired.com

One thing appears certain: The current way of dealing with cars past their prime won’t cut it. Cars are typically globe-trotters; the average vehicle may have three to four owners and cross international borders in its lifetime. When it finally dies, it falls into a globe-spanning network of auctioneers, dismantlers, and scrap yards that try to dispose of cars as profitably as possible. “These vehicles go to auction and anybody can grab them,” Kendall says. “That’s where the Wild West is.”

Today’s system mostly works because scrap metal has value and there’s a healthy market for conventional auto parts. Dismantlers—including those that fly under the radar of regulators—make a fine art of wringing every penny from a dead car, explains Andy Latham, CEO of Salvage Wire, an auto recycling consultancy in the UK. That includes the lead-acid batteries that start gas-powered cars. More than 95 percent of them are recycled today because consumers can claim deposits when they return the batteries, and they are relatively simple to dismantle. Lithium-ion battery packs are, by contrast, heavy machines with dozens of components and radically different designs depending on their manufacturer. “The voltages in these batteries are lethal,” says Latham, who trains salvagers just getting started with EVs. “People don’t know the risks involved.”