At a glance:

  • EV battery recycling will be essential to make the green transition a success
  • It is definitely possible to reuse these cells, but there’s a long way to go before we can do EV battery recycling at scale
  • Learn about the EV battery recycling process, as well as alternative uses for spent cells
  • Find out where and how EV batteries can be recycled


One of the biggest drivers in the rise of electric vehicles (EV) has been concern about the impact of carbon emissions from exhaust pipes. However, as EV usage has grown, we have become increasingly aware that battery powered cars are far from benign when it comes to their environmental impact. 

Here’s the problem. Most EV cells today contain a complex mix of metals, including fairly rare elements like cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel (as well as more common materials such as graphite, aluminium, copper, steel and iron). Extracting these materials through mining can do a lot of environmental damage, not to mention the poor working conditions found in many source countries. Then, once EV batteries reach the end of their life, it’s dangerous to leave them in landfill. They can cause fires as they degrade, or leach pollution into the soil and groundwaters. 

The obvious solution here would be to start recycling old electric car batteries. That would reduce the need to keep extracting lots of raw materials, while avoiding the dangers of leaving the cells to decay. So, can electric car batteries be recycled? And if so, what are the options? Let’s find out. 

Which materials in an electric car battery can be recycled?

The current generation of electric vehicles are almost all powered by some kind of lithium-ion battery. Each EV firm has a slightly different design, but batteries basically all contain the rare minerals cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese (plus several other common metals, polymers and silicon). EV battery recycling companies can get most value from separating out the rarer metals. 

There are two main EV battery recycling processes. In either case, it begins by shredding the batteries and grinding them into a fine powder. 

  • Pyrometallurgy: The battery materials are exposed to extreme heat, which melts away everything but the metals. These are then separated out using chemical treatments. 
  • Hydrometallurgy: This process avoids the use of heat. The battery materials are put into various chemical baths which break them down and separate out one metal from another. 

Although we know how to recycle electric car batteries, it’s currently quite an expensive and energy intensive activity. Disassembling the batteries is also risky work, as there’s a danger of chemical burns and fire due to the mixture of chemicals inside the batteries.

Where can you have your electric car batteries recycled?

If you’re looking for EV battery recycling in the UK, your first point of contact should be the vehicle manufacturer, or the dealership who sold you the car. They should have processes in place to recover the vehicle and deal with the battery. 

Be aware that few (if any) UK scrap merchants will want to take on an EV battery, since disassembling them is complicated, expensive, and dangerous. 

It might seem surprising, but there are not yet really any dedicated EV battery recycling centres in the UK (although recent announcements by industrial conglomerates suggest this will soon change). Part of the reason is that most EV batteries have a lifespan of at least 10 years, if not considerably longer – so many of the oldest batteries are still working and just haven’t had to be recycled yet. There’s also a cost factor. Given that the number of EVs has, until recently, been quite small, there just haven’t been enough batteries to make recycling a profitable business. That, however, is likely to change as EV numbers continue to rise. 

How are electric car batteries reused?

The raw materials in electric car batteries can be used for all manner of purposes. But, probably the most obvious use is to package them up into a brand new EV battery. Indeed, car manufacturer Tesla claims that over 90% of the materials in its batteries can be reused for future cells. 

However, this doesn’t really happen at scale yet. So far, it’s been cheaper for firms to just extract raw metals than it is to disassemble and reuse the batteries. Still, analysis by GLG, a research firm, indicates that there is definitely money to be made from recycling. 

What’s more, the European Commission is currently developing rules that will push manufacturers to recycle a far higher proportion of battery materials. This might help electric car battery recycling companies build a successful business model.  

How are electric car batteries repurposed?

Since EV battery recycling remains somewhat tricky, there’s an argument that, at least for now, we should simply repurpose older batteries without breaking them down. There are plenty of possibilities here, including:

  • Using them to store renewable energy in people’s homes: If you have solar panels on the roof of your home, this is great for producing ‘free’ electricity when the sun shines. But what about at night? Repurposed EV batteries could find a new lease of life storing surplus electricity in people’s homes. 
  • Grid-scale storage of solar and wind energy: This is a scaled up version of the above idea. Various companies have built mega cells out of repurposed EV batteries that can store electricity from solar arrays and wind farms to provide voltage when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. 
  • Use in small vehicles: Repurposed EV batteries could find a home in a wide range of vehicles that don’t need the same massive range as your standard car – from warehouse forklifts to golf buggies or milk floats – and beyond. 
  • Use in industry: Industrial companies that need back up electricity could benefit from having a store of old car batteries held on site.
  • Mobile charging units: There are various proposals for mobile charging units made using old EV batteries – everything from phone charging at music festivals, through to providing power in disaster zones or refugee camps.

What is valuable in an EV battery?

The most valuable material in EV batteries today is cobalt – a fairly rare element that is primarily sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other valuable materials in EV batteries include lithium, manganese, and nickel.

Can the recycled materials from EV cells be reused to make new batteries?

Yes, in theory it is possible to make new EV batteries using materials from recycled cells. That said, it’s currently an expensive process, so EV firms mainly use raw materials to make their batteries. 

While we’re not quite at the stage where EV batteries are easily or widely recycled, there’s no doubt they can be. And as we see evermore EVs on the road, it seems likely that electric car battery recycling will become much more commonplace in the next few years. 

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