17 March 2023

The second life of EV batteries

The growth of the EV market in Europe & Italy: the crucial role of battery recycling for the industry’s sustainability


EV sales are rising fast in the European market, and predictions call for demand to grow strongly over the next years. Although this begs the question: is there enough lithium, cobalt, and nickel to underpin such rapid growth? The answer can also be found in advancements in the recycling process of EV batteries, representing a crucial challenge that must be tackled in order to guarantee the industry’s sustainability. Recovering as many raw materials as possible will be the basis for sustainable growth. Fortunately, along with EV producers, battery makers and companies investing in the circular economy are also involved in the development of more efficient recycling methods, as well as in the recovery of the largest possible quantity of raw materials. Let’s find out more!


The evolving scenario of the recycling industry within the context of EV batteries: focus on Europe & Italy

According to a new report from Motus-E in partnership with Strategy& and Milan’s Polytechnic, the European market for EV battery recycling could be worth roughly 6 billion euros by 2050. Even though major investments will be needed to improve the recycling technology and the productive capacity, as well as the development of international standards for battery recycling, it’s also true that the capacity of “second life” applications is on the rise. Based on this report, it’s forecasted that the volume of batteries destined for recycling in Europe will reach about 3,4 Mton, while revenue generated from recycling will reach 4.1-6.1 billion euros, with a marginality of 1.2-3.2 billion euros.

Sales of EVs are projected on the rise in Italy as well, as the capacity to recycle batteries. In fact, the volume of batteries destined to be recycled will reach 367 kton while revenues from recycling will reach 431-646 million euros, with a marginality of 121-337 million.


The capacity of EV batteries

Based on the make and model of each EV, the capacity of each battery varies considerably, although next-gen batteries are becoming ever more efficient and long-lasting. Even second-hand batteries, whether recycled or regenerated, have now reached a very high level in quality standards, stretching their usable life for a whopping further 10 years. We forecast that the capacity of such batteries will grow, also supported by a rise in the use of devices that monitor the State of Health – or SoH – of exhausted batteries, meaning, measuring the performance levels guaranteed by batteries which varies over time.

However, at the end of their useful life, batteries must be disposed of in a safe and environmentally-sound way in order to prevent any damage to the environment and health.


The value chain of EV batteries

We can identify two macro-phases in the EV battery value chain:

  1. Production and usage: includes the extraction of raw materials, the engineering of the battery, the construction of the vehicle, and its use to power the EV;
  2. The end-of-life management: includes the collection of the batteries, transport, the eventual second-life reuse or refurbishing, the recycling of the battery, and the sale of recycled materials.

The end-of-life management of batteries

We now dwell on the second macro-phase of the battery value chain. Based on the state of health of the batteries, their management calls for three options in their end-of-life:

  1. Reuse: the battery is reused in applications that differ from the automotive industry, through testing and battery-pack assembly;
  2. Reconditioning: the battery is disassembled to its modules or cells, while its damaged parts are replaced in order to recover its factory capacity;
  3. Recycling: raw materials contained within the battery are recovered through a series of mechanical, thermal, or chemical processes.


The success factors for the end-of-life management of batteries

The innovation in the sales model of EVs and the efficient management of the battery end-of-life process are critical factors that guarantee the sustainability of the sector. Six success factors were identified in the management of the battery end-of-life:

  1. Evolution and regulatory compliance
  2. Scaling for economic sustainability
  3. Streamlining of logistics
  4. Effectiveness of the recycling technology
  5. Demand for recycling materials
  6. Stability in the offer of raw materials


Recycling batteries: benefits for the environment and opportunities for Italy

Recycling EV batteries offers many perks for both the environment and business opportunities in Italy. In fact, on one side, the activity allows a significant reduction in greenhouse gases while preventing the scarcity of critical materials. On the other, it can create new job opportunities and stimulate economic growth in the sustainable technology business. And still more, it can guarantee savings because recycled raw materials are available on the market at reduced prices.

Also with regard to Italy, the industry’s economic outlook may prove to be positive. EU targets on the minimum content of recycled material in batteries are opening up a huge market, and thanks to an extensive experience in recycling, its industrial heritage, and its strategic position, Italy has the potential to become an industry leader, thus becoming a magnet for foreign clients looking to recycle their own batteries. As numbers in circulating EVs in Europe are on a natural upward trajectory, numbers in batteries to recycle will grow substantially after 2035, thus exponentially increasing the revenue of this business. Furthermore, activating a local supply chain would make Italy self-sufficient in this important phase of the battery lifecycle.

The regulatory contribution

In order to turn the aforementioned outlook into reality, and subsequently support the battery recycling market, it’s crucial that regulations are updated through a European regulation concerning the management of the battery’s end-of-life and its waste products. Such regulation should establish recycling standards for batteries, define ambitious recycling targets, and introduce incentive schemes that boost the recycling rate as a way to make the whole industry ever more sustainable while fostering new circular economy processes.