California’s progress toward electric vehicle battery recycling policy

As electric vehicle (EV) policies are implemented across the country and sales continue to rise, one question many are asking is whether vehicle batteries are being recycled.

Yes, EV battery recycling occurs at facilities in the United States. Recovered materials, including cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese, can be used to make new batteries. While this recycling market is growing, there is still no federal or state law or policy requiring it – a requirement that could ensure higher recycling rates and increased efficiency.

California is taking steps to change that.

In 2019, the State brought together a group of experts and stakeholders – thanks to Assembly Bill 2832 – to develop policy recommendations that would increase EV battery recycling. This group of stakeholders informed a recently published publication report containing policy recommendations for the state.

The report outlines a set of policies that could become the first U.S. lithium-ion battery recycling regulations — including producer responsibility for battery recycling. While this is a huge win for those of us who want to see batteries recycled, there were also a handful of policies that could make incredible strides towards increasing battery durability but weren’t recommended. .

I had the privilege of co-facilitating this group with my colleagues at the University of California, Davis as well as dedicated individuals from CalRecycle and the Department of Toxic Substance Control. So let me provide a (very) brief summary of the policy recommendations and some insights I have gleaned.

Who were the members of the advisory group?

The advisory group had a final tally of 19 members and was composed of representatives from the automotive and battery industries (6 members), the waste industry (5 members), public interest organizations (3 members) and government agencies (5 members).

The final policy recommendations were based on a group vote to which representatives of government agencies recused themselves. Voting members were therefore pro-industry, with the automotive and battery industry representing 43% of members, the waste industry representing 36% and public interest organizations representing 21%. Each policy had to receive an affirmative vote of at least 50% of the group to be included as a recommendation in the report.

Has the group proposed retraining requirements?

The group recommended that battery recycling be a requirement in the state and defined the party responsible for covering the cost of transporting and recycling batteries once a vehicle is retired. If this type of policy is adopted, it could be a big step towards increasing the recycling of electric vehicle batteries.

Two policy options for determining the responsible party were proposed. The first says that it should be the electric vehicle manufacturer (i.e. automaker like Ford or Tesla) who is responsible for ensuring that their vehicle’s batteries are recycled when the car or truck is not is no longer on the road. This policy, called Extended Producer Responsibility, was recommended with 67% support from voting members. Automakers were the only members not supporting this policy, even though Tesla was the outlier and in favor of this policy option.

The second option received a higher level of support at 93%. All members voted in favor of this policy, except Tesla who abstained. This second policy option defines the electric vehicle manufacturer or an automotive dismantler as the responsible party, based on a few important factors. These factors require nuanced knowledge of what happens to a car when it is retired under different circumstances, such as if the vehicle breaks down under warranty, if it needs a battery replacement while out of warranty, or if it breaks down or gets old. usefulness. The most common route to retirement is to crash or age, so that will be the version of this policy explained here.

The proposed policy states that if the auto dismantler (also known as the auto recycler) acquires the EV and removes the battery, the dismantler is now responsible for ensuring the battery is recycled.

To give some context, once a car is removed it is usually turned over to an auto dismantler. These are certified facilities that dismantle cars to sell the parts for reuse or recycling. Dismantling electric vehicles is very different from dismantling gasoline-powered vehicles, which is why new equipment, training and recycling partners are needed for dismantlers to handle this new type of vehicle. These dismantlers range from small businesses to large corporations, and their trade group, the United Recyclers Group, alone represents more than 800 companies in North America.

A representative of the automaker explained in an advisory group Meet that they support this policy instead of option 1 because of the potential value of the EV used. Batteries contain valuable materials like cobalt, nickel, and lithium, but some battery chemistries contain more valuable materials than others. If the disassembler dismantles the EV and does not want the remaining battery, it is likely that the battery has less valuable chemistry and will therefore be a burden to dispose of, instead of a net benefit. Thus, the automaker essentially ensures that it does not risk being liable for an electric vehicle that has already been separated for valuable parts and then left with a product that will be expensive to dispose of.

What other policies were recommended?

The advisory group recommended policies in three other areas: increased access to information, support for industry development, and safe and efficient reverse logistics.

Providing access to battery information while the battery is in the car and after removal is crucial to enable efficient and safe reuse, repurposing and recycling. It was recommended that a label for batteries be required on all electric vehicles and include information such as chemistry, capacity and vehicle manufacturer. Labeling EV batteries is currently not common practice and makes it difficult to sort batteries and assess the cost (or revenue) of recycling.

As well as a tag, the group recommended that vehicle owners – whether it’s a regular EV driver like you or me, or the wrecker who took the car after it was removed – have access to information about the health status of their battery, or in other words, the remaining capacity and reusability of the battery. This is important in determining whether the battery should be recycled or reused, or whether it should be sent directly for recycling. Since this information is not readily available, batteries should be fully tested via full charge and discharge to know the health status of the battery. This is a long and expensive process that can be greatly improved by sharing information.

The advisory group recommended several policies that would support the development of the reuse and recycling industry. These policies include recycling incentives, expanding stationary grid storage incentives to include reused batteries, and expediting the permitting process for recycling facilities in California.

Most of the policies recommended by the group fell into the category of safe and efficient reverse logistics. The group recognized that the high cost of transporting batteries after they have been removed from a vehicle is a significant barrier to efficient and cost-effective recycling, representing 50-60% costs. Some of the recommended reverse logistics policies include supporting research into collection and sorting networks, developing training materials for workers, reducing regulatory barriers to reusing or repurposing transport batteries, and increasing regulations on electric vehicles sold at auction.

Category Recommended Policies
Responsibility for the battery at the end of its life
  • Core swap and vehicle backstop
  • Takeover from producer
Access to battery information
  • Physical labeling requirement
  • Numeric ID
  • Universal diagnostic system
Support the development of the reuse, reuse and recycling industry
  • Recycling incentive packages
  • DTSC Permit Schedule
  • Expand eligibility for battery storage systems
Safe and efficient reverse logistics
  • Support enforcement of unlicensed decommissioning laws
  • Develop training materials
  • Support transportation research
  • Develop strategic collection and sorting infrastructure
  • Universal Waste Regulation
  • Require pre-approval to bid on electric vehicles at auction

What policies were not recommended?

Policies that would add requirements and standards to recycling processes or battery manufacturing did not receive majority support from the group and were not included in the final recommendations to the state. These were discussed unfavorably by a majority of members indicating the potential to stifle the growth of a young industry. This is despite the sustainability benefits that many policies would bring.

Policies include requiring batteries to be made with recycled content and designed with recycling and reuse in mind. Recycling requirements discussed included minimum material recovery rates, third-party verification of process efficiency and environmental impact, and reporting of EV batteries retired, recycled and materials recovered. These are all policies that have been proposed by the European Commission and should become law in the European Union.

These policies have all been supported by public interest organisations, as well as many representatives of the waste industry. They were not supported by the automotive and battery industry. The combination of opposition from the automotive battery industry (43% vote) and part of the waste industry (36% vote) resulted in none of the circularity and recycling policies quality does not reach more than 50% support and is not recommended.

Category Policies with less than majority support
Circular economy and quality recycling
  • Recycled content standards
  • Minimum material recovery targets
  • Third-party verification of recycling
  • Design required for reuse and recycling
  • Reporting system for EV batteries removed from usage, recycling and recovery rates

So what’s the next step?

California legislature, it’s up to you.

The report was delivered to the legislature to inform it of policies that will lead California to 100% recycling of electric vehicle batteries. They’ll be back in session in January 2023, and it’s still unclear what the next steps will be. UCS hopes to see policies adopted in California that not only require the recycling of these batteries, but also increase material circularity and battery durability.