The first batch of new energy vehicle batteries are facing "retirement": recycling is not easy.

  The first batch of new energy vehicle batteries are facing "retirement": recycling is not easy.

  [Ecological Focus]

  With the dual drive of policy and market, China’s new energy vehicle market has experienced explosive growth in the past 10 years. However, it should not be ignored that the first batch of power batteries for new energy vehicles are aging, and a "retirement tide" of power batteries is coming.

  According to the quality assurance ability of 20% battery decay in 8 years of general vehicle manufacturers, China has ushered in a rapid increase in the number of retired power batteries for new energy vehicles since 2017. It is estimated that the number of retired batteries will reach 9.3 billion watt-hours in 2025, and the number of retired batteries will increase by more than 1 million orders of magnitude every year. This will bring huge potential market value of ladder utilization. If the retired batteries are recycled according to the method of first step and then regeneration, it is estimated that the total market size will reach 37.9 billion yuan by 2025.

  As we all know, batteries contain a variety of heavy metal elements, which will cause environmental harm if not handled properly. What will happen when the waste power battery has a huge potential market scale and meets the recycling market system that needs to be improved? What are the "blocking points" that need to be opened?

  1. Value and risk of a "retired" power battery

  According to the national standard of new energy vehicles, power batteries can often be "retired" with more than 80% remaining. This makes the power battery still have great use value after it is retired from the vehicle, which not only forms a huge potential market, but also means certain environmental risks.

  "Generally speaking, after the service life of power batteries is 5-8 years, we encourage ‘ Retired ’ Step use of battery. Although the battery’s cruising range is reduced, it can’t meet the needs of vehicles, but it can be recycled for other energy storage needs, and it can still continue ‘ Service ’ For a while, you can also choose the recycling of batteries in the future. " Jia Jingchun, an associate professor at the School of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences of Inner Mongolia Normal University, introduced.

  Liu Wanmin, an associate professor at material chemistry of Hunan Institute of Technology, told the reporter: "‘ Retired ’ Power batteries can be widely used in power system energy storage, backup power supply for communication base stations, low-speed electric vehicles and small distributed household energy storage, wind and solar complementary, electric forklifts and other fields. Generally, it can be used to about 60% of the initial capacity of the battery. According to different usage scenarios, the service life can range from several months to several years. "

  It still has the use value of several years, which makes "step by step utilization first, then recycling" become the first choice for recycling "retired" power batteries. Cascade utilization refers to the application of "retired" power batteries in other fields. Recycling is to disassemble, crush and screen the "retired" battery, and extract lithium, cobalt, nickel and other metal elements from the battery by leaching hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy, and use them in the production of secondary batteries.

  The reporter learned that power batteries contain metal elements such as lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, and the cost of raw materials accounts for 50%~70% of the total cost. The lithium salt and cobalt salt consumed by power batteries have become the largest proportion in all application fields of lithium and cobalt. With the rapid consumption of primary resources, the recovery of secondary resources should reach the corresponding level. Since the release of National Mineral Resources Planning (2016-2020), China has reserved rare earth metal minerals as strategic resources. Therefore, recycling metal elements in power batteries can not only better develop circular economy, but also effectively alleviate China’s long-term dependence on such resources.

  However, Jia Jingchun also pointed out that lithium batteries contain heavy metals such as lithium, and some batteries use organic electrolytes and organic separators. Different from the simple recycling method of traditional lead-acid batteries, the metal recycling process of lithium-ion batteries is relatively complicated. Once improperly operated, these heavy metals and organic electrolytes will bring serious threats to the environment.

  "After the battery is dismantled, we generally use hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy to recycle lithium, nickel, cobalt and other metal elements. Improper disassembly will lead to many problems such as safety, environment and resources. From the safety point of view, there are hidden dangers such as electric shock, short-circuit explosion and hydrofluoric acid corrosion. From the environmental point of view, there are heavy metal pollution such as cobalt and nickel, fluorine pollution and white pollution caused by battery diaphragm. From the perspective of resources, there is a waste of high-priced resources such as lithium, nickel and cobalt. " Liu Wanmin said.

  2. Battery recycling enterprises face three major challenges.

  Although the recycling potential is huge, at present, there is no leading enterprise in the power battery recycling market, and even some chaos has occurred. Earlier, some media reported that many host manufacturers have established battery recycling business. However, some power batteries did not flow into the formal channels, but were bought at high prices by unqualified and highly polluting small factories and improperly treated, causing hidden dangers of secondary environmental pollution. Why is this so?

  "First, at present, users of new energy vehicles are not strong enough to recycle power batteries; Second, the recycling price of some small workshops is much higher than that of regular recycling enterprises; Third, the enterprises that recycle batteries have high qualification requirements, which leads to a limited number of formal recycling enterprises; Fourth, the recycling technology is immature and the recycling business model lacks innovation. " Liu Wanmin analyzed.

  Among them, the ladder utilization and recycling is the most difficult. Although China has become the country with the best development of new energy vehicles in the world, power battery is still a new technology. In the eyes of the industry, enterprises still face three major challenges in battery recycling: inconvenient battery disassembly, unknown residual value of battery health and low economic benefits.

  The complexity of "retired" batteries is high. Different power batteries have different internal and external structural designs, module connection methods and process technologies, and only have square, cylindrical, soft bag and other shapes. This directly led to the later disassembly work can not be large-scale operation, which increased the difficulty of disassembly and labor costs. If the operation is improper, it is more likely that short circuit will cause fire or explosion, leakage will pollute the surrounding environment and threaten the health of employees, resulting in casualties and property losses.

  At present, there is no data record of the usage of some "retired" power batteries, only the original data when they leave the factory, and the usage process and current state are unknown. Before the power battery is used step by step, each module must be tested, which greatly increases the cost of the enterprise. At the same time, based on the limited data, the prediction of the remaining life is not accurate enough, which will undoubtedly increase the quality risk of the products.

  The above factors make the economic benefit of recycling power batteries low. A staff member of a battery recycling enterprise told the reporter that the small workshop gave up many key links such as detection and discharge in battery recycling, and the operators did not receive professional training, so the operating cost was much lower than that of regular enterprises, thus having more room for bargaining power and battery acquisition cost, which caused vicious competition with regular enterprises.

  3. The maintenance traceability of the "ID card" of the power battery has not been smooth.

  In fact, as early as 2016, China has issued the "Implementation Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility System", requiring the establishment of a recycling system for electric vehicle power batteries. The plan points out that electric vehicle and power battery manufacturers should be responsible for establishing a waste battery recycling network, recycling waste batteries through after-sales service network, and publishing recycling information to ensure standardized recycling and safe disposal of waste batteries. Power battery manufacturers should implement product coding and establish a full life cycle traceability system.

  On July 31, 2018, the national monitoring platform for new energy vehicles and the comprehensive management platform for the traceability of power batteries (hereinafter referred to as "the national traceability management platform") was launched. The platform was built by the National Engineering Laboratory for Electric Vehicles of Beijing Institute of Technology, and its main function was to collect information and monitor the whole process of power batteries’ production, sales, use, scrapping, recycling and utilization, so as to realize that the source of power batteries can be traced, the destination can be traced and the nodes can be controlled.

  At present, the national traceability platform has collected more than 5.6 million vehicle information data, including new energy passenger cars, buses, special vehicles, etc., and the total number of supporting batteries exceeds 8.9 million, with batteries exceeding 28 billion watt-hours. It involves more than 290 new energy vehicle manufacturers and more than 180 battery companies.

  The establishment of the whole life cycle traceability system means that every car’s battery has its own "ID card". But why do batteries still flow into small workshops? Some insiders pointed out that although China has established a traceability management system, due to the lack of mandatory policies, enterprises have problems such as serious lag, incompleteness and difficulty in traceability when reporting data. At the same time, the current policies and regulations are not binding on how car owners deal with batteries, which also gives small workshops an opportunity to buy power batteries.

  "In 2015, China’s technical policy has clearly stated that a power battery coding system will be established. The Interim Measures for the Management of Recycling in 2018 proposed the establishment of a power battery traceability information management system, coding technical standards and related information sharing mechanisms. However, in reality, there are many types and quantities of enterprises involved, such as battery manufacturers, battery maintenance and replacement institutions, battery leasing enterprises, and cascade utilization enterprises. The battery life cycle is as long as several years, and coding maintenance is difficult. " Liu Wanmin said.

  Jia Jingchun said: "Professional battery recycling is a large-scale system engineering. How to recycle requires coordination from all sides, especially the cooperation of automobile manufacturers, battery manufacturers and related extension industries. Once a link in the whole cycle is unreasonable, it will inevitably lead to problems of lag and other derivatives in recycling. "

  4. The national standard system for battery recycling still needs to be improved.

  By the end of 2020, China’s National Standardization Administration Committee has issued five national standards for the recycling of vehicle batteries, basically forming a standard system framework. In addition, the regulatory policies for the recycling of power batteries, the relevant standards of the echelon industry and the industry regulatory system are also being improved. However, some insiders pointed out that most of the standards currently issued are recommended standards, and there are problems such as insufficient binding force and lack of superior law in the implementation process.

  "At present, new energy owners are interested in ‘ Retired ’ In fact, most people are still vague about how to dispose of batteries. Some car companies have introduced battery replacement, such as full mileage or ‘ Service ’ Time for battery replacement and recycling. However, the large-area battery life of new energy vehicles has not yet arrived. " Jia Jingchun said that he pointed out that over time, new energy owners will gradually become more experienced in how to properly handle power batteries. "At present, we should establish corresponding supervision and legislation to ensure that used batteries can be returned to manufacturers or recycling enterprises. At the same time, the supervision of battery production and use must be formed. After leaving the factory, traceability, use tracking and battery destination after use all need a set of supervision mechanisms. "

  Many experts in the industry pointed out that in order to speed up the recycling of power batteries, in addition to strengthening the implementation of the producer extension system, there are still three aspects to be improved in the future: first, we must strengthen publicity and raise consumers’ awareness of environmental protection; Second, we should formulate policies to subsidize or reward enterprises that actively participate in battery recycling, and at the same time crack down on non-compliant recycling; The third is to speed up the transformation of intelligent equipment in enterprises, improve the efficiency of battery recycling, reduce the recycling cost through economies of scale, improve the bargaining power of enterprises, and provide effective protection for the normal operation of enterprises, thus fundamentally solving the industrial problems of high cost and low profit and guiding the further standardization of battery recycling.

  As many batteries go online, there are many batteries to be "retired". As an important part of the development of new energy vehicle industry in the future, the healthy and standardized development of power batteries is very important.

  This year’s government work report mentioned that the construction of power battery recycling system will be accelerated. At the national level, China has accelerated the legislative process of power battery recycling. In addition, the reporter learned that on March 29, 2021, the national evaluation and trading platform for "retired" power batteries of new energy vehicles (also known as battery house) was established in Foshan City, Guangdong Province.

  The platform will aggregate the resources of the National Engineering Laboratory for Electric Vehicles, the National Monitoring and Management Platform for Battery Traceability and the specialized committee for recycling new energy batteries, and strive to maximize the battery utilization rate. Based on the blockchain technology, it will provide many services for new energy automobile enterprises, such as performance evaluation of big data power batteries, offline laboratory testing and online trading of power batteries, and it is also expected to help solve the industrial problems such as difficult recycling, limited sales channels and lack of rapid performance testing technology in the recycling of power batteries.

  (Reporter Li Yulan Du Bing)