MNTRC Newsletter Vol. 21, Issue 2: Fall 2014

Repurposed li-ion batteries show economic promise


Charles Standridge, PhD, Professor and Assistant Dean, Padnos College of Engineering and Computing

Li-Ion vehicle battery

When li-ion batteries outlive their use in vehicles, they can be converted for other purposes.

GVSU News – Current research shows that it can be cost-effective to remanufacture lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries once they have outlived their useful life in vehicle applications. But is it also cost-effective to repurpose them? Studies in progress at Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) School of Engineering indicate that, in fact, this is possible. Recycling alone, however, may not be cost effective.

Cost benefit analysis showed that a vehicle-application remanufactured battery could be produced for about 60 percent of the cost of a new battery. This estimate is based on reasonable and conservative assumptions about capital costs for equipment and factory facilities to support the remanufacturing process. 

R&D expenses are a primary component

Applications for repurposed batteries are currently less well defined than for remanufacturing.  Thus research and development expenses are a primary component of cost. It was shown that under conservative assumptions for other costs, that repurposing is economic for approximately $82.65 per kWh in research and development costs. This is well within the range for such costs previously estimated in the literature. 

In addition, for a lower bound in R&D expenses of $50 per kWh, the lowest economic sales price is shown to be $114.05 per kWh, also well within the sale price range stated in the literature. 

However, disassembly of individual cells for recycling was determined not to be economic unless the market price for lithium salts increases about twentyfold to $98.60 per kg, which some believe is possible due to demand outstripping current supply of this metal. But because recycling is required, as eventually each cell in each battery will no longer be usable in any application, it is clear that original, remanufacturing, and repurposing applications will likely need to bear some recycling expenses.

A sufficient supply does exist

It stands to reason that the feasibility of remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling post-vehicle-application lithium-ion batteries depends both on the availability of such batteries in sufficient number and whether the processes, including the capital investments needed to support them are economical.

There are a variety of demand forecasts for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles from which the number of post-vehicle-application batteries can be derived. The results showed a sufficient supply of such batteries for remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling is estimated to reach 1,000,000 per year between 2022 and 2027, depending on the forecast. Expressed as a percent of new car production, the number of post-vehicle-application batteries is forecast to reach 50 percent between 2020 and 2033. 

Private industry is helping

The research team is continuing its work in partnership with Sybesma’s Electronics, a third-generation family-owned business in Holland MI to insure industrial applicability. Contributions of equipment and post-vehicle-application batteries have been received from A123 Systems, Johnson Controls, and LG Chem.

The recently published paper “Feasibility Assessment of Remanufacturing, Repurposing, and Recycling of End of Vehicle Application Lithium-ion Batteries” summarizes this work. It is available for free download from the Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management at www.jiem.org.