The recycling of high-capacity batteries used in electric vehicles (EV) is gaining traction as a business opportunity in Japan, because they can still be used for other purposes even after they have degraded and can no longer power a vehicle.
As Nissan Motor Co and Mitsubishi Motors Corp started mass-producing EVs more than 10 years ago, battery replacement cycles have already started to kick in. Now, a growing number of companies from other industries are getting into the business of recycling or repurposing these expensive components.
The Forest Country Club, a golf course in Shizuoka prefecture, has 11 electric golf carts running on used EV batteries.
Compared to new lead-acid batteries, used EV batteries have a second lifespan of five to six years, which is about three times longer, and they also consume less electricity.
“The initial cost of used EV batteries is expensive, but in terms of maintenance costs, it is inexpensive. We would like to promote the use of the batteries in the future,” said an official of Kawashima Group that operates the golf course.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co has deployed storage batteries made from second-hand batteries at its 11 outlets in Kanagawa prefecture as part of a verification trial. Electricity generated by solar panels is stored in the batteries during the day and used in the stores at night.
“[We will verify the effectiveness of this system] as part of our decarbonisation efforts,” a spokesperson for the company said.
East Japan Railway Co is also conducting a verification trial to see how used EV batteries can be converted into a power source for railway crossings during power outages.
Lithium-ion batteries used for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHV) eventually require replacement, as the cruising radius deteriorates after about 10 years of use.
However, these EV batteries – which have a capacity several times that of ordinary household storage batteries – can still be used even after they have deteriorated to the point where they can no longer be used to power a vehicle.
Nissan’s Leaf EV, launched in 2010, has sold more than 500,000 units in total, meaning there will be around that many more used batteries to deal with in the future. Batteries account for a major portion of an EV’s price.
Nissan and Sumitomo Corp have jointly set up 4R Energy Corp to reuse EV batteries. The company collects used EV batteries in Japan and overseas and decides where to reuse them according to the degree of their deterioration.
4R Energy president Eiji Makino is eager to expand the business, saying: “The expansion of the used battery market should lead to the spread of EVs.”
The company plans to roughly triple its current capacity to process about 1,500 used EV batteries.
Mitsubishi Motors, for its part, began collecting batteries used in PHVs and recycling them as storage batteries at its plants last fiscal year.
Eneos Holdings Inc will start a trial for recycling used batteries for use as household storage batteries and street lighting in fiscal 2022.
Major trading companies also see the reuse of EV batteries as being a business opportunity.
Itochu Corp has started a business to convert used lithium-ion batteries for EV taxis and buses in China into storage batteries for factories and distribution centres in Japan and overseas.
The company aims to achieve annual sales of about 10 billion yen ($90 million) by fiscal 2026.
In 2019, Mitsui & Co also established an operating company jointly with Renault SA of France and other companies, and started a service to reuse batteries as storage batteries for power-related companies in Germany.
There is also a movement to recycle used batteries as a source of minerals.
Envision AESC Group, a Chinese affiliated company that produces batteries for EVs, will start a business to extract rare metals such as nickel and cobalt from used batteries, and then reuse them as resources.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK