electric car battery nissan

Japan’s first electric car battery recycling plant to sell old batteries at half price

Japan’s first plant specialising in the reuse and recycling of lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles (EVs) is set to open amid growing demand for electric cars.

The project will be led by 4R Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo Corporation, and will give the costly batteries new life after they pass their peak performance.

With the rapidly rising number of electric cars on the road, the availability of used lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase significantly in the near future as buyers of the first generation of electric cars look to replace their vehicles.

The recycling and refabrication of such batteries is expected to have a substantial impact on the battery industry, affecting demand for new battery materials, and on the environment and society as a whole.

Global automakers are looking for ways to make cheaper EVs and prolong the life of their batteries, which can account for up to one-fifth of each vehicle’s cost and are made from increasingly costly materials, including cobalt and nickel.

A recent study found that worldwide supplies for lithium and cobalt - key elements for producing batteries - could become critical by 2050.

The new factory will begin selling rebuilt replacement lithium-ion batteries for the first-generation Nissan Leaf.

The batteries will be produced at the new factory in the town of Namie by reassembling high-performing modules removed from batteries whose overall energy capacity has fallen below 80 per cent.

They will be sold in Japan for 300,000 yen (£2,015), roughly half the price of brand-new replacement batteries for the world’s first and best-selling mass-marketed, all-battery EV.

“By reusing spent EV batteries, we wanted to raise the (residual) value of EVs and make them more accessible,” said 4R chief executive Eiji Makino, 4R.

The new plant has opened around 5km north of the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and it is hoped it will be an economic boon to Namie, which has struggled in the wake of the disaster.

The flat, rectangular battery packs that line the bottom of each Leaf chassis are trucked into the plant, where each module is assessed.

Sumitomo has come up with a way to analyse all 48 modules contained in each battery pack in four hours, a huge time saving over the 16 days Nissan engineers previously used for similar measurements.

Modules with capacities above 80 per cent are assigned for use in replacement Leaf batteries; lesser modules are reassembled and sold as batteries for fork lifts, golf carts and lower-energy applications such as streetlamps.

The plant can process 2,250 battery packs a year and initially plans to refabricate “a few hundred” units annually, Makino said, adding that 4R would see whether the process could also be used for batteries from the latest Leaf model, which uses a different battery chemistry.

Makino said it would be difficult for 4R to completely break down and recycle EV batteries on its own, but may consider partnering with another company to retrieve reusable materials, a process that industry experts say is key to sustainable EV battery production.

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