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As the popularity of electric vehicles surges, so will the volume of spent lithium-ion batteries. In 2018, the total number of electric cars in the world exceeded 5.1 million, an increase of 2 million compared with the prior year, according to the International Energy Agency. This surge in popularity has brought with it corresponding growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries required to power these vehicles—promising a potential environmental reckoning once these batteries are spent. Different parts of the world have taken different approaches to tackling the issue; China, for example, has implemented measures that hold car manufacturers responsible for the “end-of-life treatment” of vehicle batteries, according to the IEA’s report, while the European Union has set standards for battery waste management since 2006 including a ban on landfilling - and has mandated companies to collect and recycle batteries. Lithium-ion batteries now predominantly used for automobiles (in addition to consumer electronics) can collect and discharge electricity for up to ten years after they are taken off the roads, according to a Bloomberg report published in 2018 - which noted that potential second-life applications for them include storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines. These second-life applications can have practical, everyday uses. In Amsterdam, for example, an energy storage system at Johan Cruijuff Arena uses the equivalent of 148 new and used Nissan LEAF batteries to capture energy from 4,200 solar panels and store up to 3 megawatts of power - or enough to charge a half a million iPhones - for back-up purposes. To be sure, regardless of their post-vehicle uses, batteries should ideally be used as efficiently and for the longest duration possible. In order to help drivers be more strategic about optimizing energy consumption, big data and machine learning can be deployed; one study published in 2019 outlined an approach involving real-time prediction and a dashboard display to optimize braking. Machine learning can also be used more generally to better understand the current health of a battery in use, and to schedule replacements. Ideally, replaced batteries will become part of a circular economy approach; Audi and the technology firm Umicore, for example, have developed a related, “closed-loop” system meant to use valuable elements from the used batteries in Audi’s e-tron for new products. Norway’s commitment to 100% emission-free passenger vehicles by 2025 has led to a 3,000% increase in sales of battery EVs from 2011 to 2019. With so many EVs on the road in Norway, questions have now arisen about the best way to recycle so many batteries in the future. A study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that Norway will have about 2.1 gigawatt hours worth of retired EV batteries by 2030. The study calls on Norwegian industries to get ahead of the battery glut now and find business cases for battery-storage technologies to give the components a second life.

Battery Recycling and Second-Life

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Next Generation Batteries