At the end of the economic and/or physical lifetime of a neighbourhood battery, there are several steps that should be followed:
As your neighbourhood battery approaches the end of its life, you may want to consider replacement of the battery with one of the same or smaller/greater capacity depending on analysis of its performance and use. This would be an important time to evaluate not only your battery’s performance, but also the success of your business model, including engaging with your partners and community to assess their satisfaction with the battery. As a result of this evaluation, you may want the new battery to be installed at the same site, or at a new one depending on evolving network conditions and infrastructure. In the former case, this could save costs and time associated with selecting a new site, remediating the old site and preparing the new site.
After use, there is a possibility for a neighbourhood battery to be reused for a second life in other applications. The battery in its second life may be used as a whole pack, or the packs may be disassembled and separated for use in bespoke second life products. The possibility for a battery to be reused in a second life will depend on its use and operation, including how many cycles (charging and discharging) it has done, how deep the cycles have been, and other maintenance factors. So far, the market for second life batteries is still small, but with the growth of batteries in the next few years this market may grow to accommodate better use of batteries and their raw materials.
There is also currently movement in assessing the potential of reusing EV batteries at the end of their life in vehicles for use in stationary electricity storage systems. At the end of their vehicle life, EV batteries typically have a residual capacity of more than 80%, which is not sufficient to meet the portable energy demand of an EV but can be suitable in stationary applications where a lower energy density is suitable. Depending on the state of the EV battery, it could still have a remaining service life of up to ten years after its use in a vehicle. For example, at the beginning of 2022, German energy company RWE began a pilot of 60 lithium-ion batteries, total 4.5MWh capacity, from Audi’s e-tron vehicle development programme.
The second step is its recycling. Lithium-ion batteries are 95% recyclable, meaning 95% of its components can be turned into new batteries or used in other industries, but currently only 2% of Australia’s annual lithium-ion battery waste is actually recycled. Majority of Australia’s battery waste is currently shipped overseas, with the waste that remains being left in landfill, potentially leading to fires and environmental contamination.
Where possible, measures should therefore be taken to recycle your neighbourhood battery to minimise its environmental impact and contribute back to the materials market. Batteries contain non-renewable and valuable materials like lead, lithium, manganese, nickel, and zinc. These materials can be recycled again and again. They can also be harmful to the environment if not properly disposed of.
In all cases, it should be ensured that you choose a responsible recycler to dispose of your battery system. The processes used and the efficiencies of these processes for recycling batteries will depend on the country the battery is from and is being recycled in.
Such questions that should be discussed with a selected recycler include:
- Do they intend to reuse or recycle components of the battery system?
- Do they have safety measures in place for recycling the battery?
- Who will transport, and do they have a licence to collect and transport your type ofbattery? (Important as most battery types need a licence to be transported within Australia due to its classification as hazardous waste)
- Who will recycle the battery, where will the recycling occur (preferably Australia), andis the recycler qualified to do so?
- What will happen to the other components of the battery system that cannot be recycled?
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) was established as a not-for-profit organisation to promote the safe recycling of batteries. Initiatives like the ABRI have emerged to work on establishing collection points and recycling facilities for batteries to be recycled in Australia. On their website (Australian Battery Recycling Initiative), they provide location-specific recycling facilities and partners.
The last option for the end of life of your neighbourhood battery should be that of disposal. Even in this case, the disposal of the battery must be done in a particular and careful manner due to the toxic materials within the battery and the potential for them to negatively impact the environment if not properly disposed. You should ask your battery installer for an end-of-life plan for the battery system. An accredited installer should be consulted to gain advice on deinstallation.
Where the neighbourhood battery was located, there may need to be some site remediation to return it to its previous condition. This will only be the case for ground mounted batteries and not for pole-mounted batteries. It will also depend on the site of the battery and if it is on public land, such as in a park, or private land, such as in commercial or industrial settings as remediation requirements will likely be more involved for public rather than private sites. It is important to note site remediation for a neighbourhood battery is very different to that for remediating a mine site or chemical factory. The battery and its components during its lifetime should be well contained, as needed to ensure its safe and non-obstructing operation, and therefore shouldn’t have had any significant environmental impact. Site remediation will therefore just include consideration for things like ensuring all battery components and infrastructure are cleared, replanting any plants or trees, and working with your DNSP to ensure the battery’s grid connection is safely returned to its prior state.