HEV BATTERIES: A Shock to the System

I recently attended a research study on reuse and recycling of batteries in electric vehicles on November 7th and 8th at Argonne National Laboratories in Lemont, Illinois. Delanne Bernier and I were there to make a presentation and represent ARA at this event, which was called the “Recell” Conference. This was a well-attended event by scientists and engineers from all over the globe, as well as engineers from several of the OEMs.

The purpose of this conference was to look at the feasibility of what to do with batteries out of end-of-life Hybrid/Electric vehicles. There are several types of these batteries currently in use. The first-generation being Nickel Metal Hydride batteries (NiMH), as well as new-generation, which are Lithium-Ion batteries. The focus was on possible second-life use, as well as being able to recycle and recover the elements from these batteries.

This event was also hosted by the Department of Energy, DOE. Some of the challenges that were discussed were regarding the huge increase in Hybrid/Electric vehicles, this will obviously increase demand on the elements (rare earth materials) that are used in manufacturing them. With the future battery type obviously being Lithium-Ion, from a national security standpoint, there is concern about availability of these elements that primarily come from countries that we do not have good relationships with. The main elements are Lithium and Cobalt. These elements may very well come into short supply in the future, which is the reason for exploring different methods to recycle these batteries down to the Cathode/Anode to recover these elements for reuse.

Obviously, for recycling to be successful, there has to be a value in it for the recycler. Currently, what the future holds for us with these batteries is unclear. They could be a liability or they could have great value. Your Association, ARA, in response to these challenges, now offers to its members, training courses for Auto Recyclers on best management practices, as well as how to safely handle, remove, and store these batteries, with the focus on high-voltage safety and de-powering this high-voltage system. It also focuses on the safety equipment needed. This training is going to be critical for all recyclers because of the danger of putting untrained workers at risk of serious injury or death from these high-voltage batteries.

The hazards of these batteries can be best explained by watching a simple video where they hammer a screwdriver into a Lithium-ion laptop battery. Within seconds, the battery bursts into flames. This can happen with a charged or an uncharged battery because this is a chemical reaction. Because of this, the shredders are now concerned with the possibility of fires at their locations from the hazards that are present in these batteries. This is not limited to the main battery. Some of the newer high-end vehicles can have in excess of fifteen of these batteries in the various electronic modules. Will we now be responsible for removing all of these components? How will we identify their location, their type, and what will we do with them?

While there has been some conversation about fires at the shredders in their “fluff” piles, I don’t see how this can possibly come from these batteries being breached, because after all, they are being breached in the shredder, not the piles. Any reaction from being breached will occur while the vehicle is being shredded.

The most revealing and frustrating thing for me personally was when Delanne and I got up to do our presentation, how everyone in attendance was unaware, as well as amazed, by what we do and how we do it. Make no mistake about it, these were some brilliant people in attendance, and what I saw really underscores the need for us to educate and inform the rest of the world as to what we are and what we do, and the crucial, important role that we play in the world of vehicles and Auto-Recycling. We definitely need to have an open-door relationship with those that regulate us, as well as with the OEMs that manufacture these vehicles that we have to process and recycle at the total-loss or end-of-life stage.

Will we be able to get the information that we need to be responsible and safe operators, or will we be forced to figure things out and fend for ourselves as we have in the past? This is where the OEMs have to realize that we are a viable partner and we need to be treated as such. As individuals, we can voice our opinions, but the real power comes from strength in numbers and the importance of us all speaking with one loud, clear voice on the challenges and issues that face our industry. As RD Hopper once said, “You are either at the table, or you are on the plate.” We all need to be at the table and tell our story so as to not let our future be decided by those who do not really know who we are and what we do.

ARA is YOUR Association. We are constantly working on raising awareness, as well as training and educating our members to be the best that they can be. Remember, an association is only as strong as its leadership and the participation from its members. We can either have more opportunity or more hardship. What happens all depends on our ability to evolve and improve as an industry. Do you want to have a hand in shaping your future or not? The choice is yours.

Support your State Association, Support ARA, the only Association for Auto Recyclers!

Marty Hollingshead

ARA Secretary · Northlake Auto Recyclers — Hammond, IN

Hollingshead has been in the professional automotive recycling industry for 45 years, including 34 years as President/Owner of Northlake Auto Recyclers, one of the industry’s leading facilities. Hollingshead prides himself on taking a hands-on approach in the business, employing the use of checks and balances for quality control to ensure customers only receive the highest quality parts. Northlake was one of the first automotive recycling facilities in the state of Indiana to receive from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management the Indiana Clean Yard – Gold Level Certification in 2009. Northlake was certified as one of the Indiana Certified Automotive Recycler Exemplary Standards (INCARES) program’s inaugural medalists and was the highest scoring facility in Indiana in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and tied for first place in 2018. Northlake was also the recipient of the 2016 ARA Certified Automotive Recycler of the Year award, having been nominated by his peers in the industry.