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Sustainable Management of End-of-Life Electric Vehicle Lithium-Ion Batteries to Maximize Resource Efficiency

thesis
posted on 2024-03-08, 02:06 authored by Edwin KpodzroEdwin Kpodzro

Vehicle electrification has been proposed as one of the most important technologies for the future of sustainable energy and climate change mitigation. These electric vehicles (EVs) are predominantly powered by lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) which contain critical materials — lithium (Li), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn), and graphite — that are in short supply. Maximizing resource efficiency through material recovery is crucial for a circular economy and the long-term financial, environmental, and social sustainability of the EV industry.


Heavily influenced by technology, business, and policy, the EV ecosystem must balance the interests of multiple stakeholders. There is a system-of-systems dependency between the circular business model employed; the process, scale, and impact of operations; and the overall economy of the operating environment. However, these linkages are highly dependent on the technological process for material recovery. Given that proof-of-concept research methodologies in the academy are typically low-complexity technologies (low-tech) and at a low technological readiness level (TRL), economies of scale, environmental impacts, and policy implications are not readily deduced.


Two practical low-tech and low TRL methods for cathode material recovery and cell reattachment for extended battery usage were developed as proofs-of-concept. One theoretical approach for cell removal using heat application was also explored. Given that artisanal mining plays a significant role in the upstream battery material supply chain and is often carried out on a small scale with common tools, safe manual disassembly processes through low-tech, low TRL methods for environmentally friendly battery material recovery could be influential in the downstream management of end-of-life (EOL) EVs.


Another recommendation is to treat lithium-ion batteries and current recycling methods as transitory technologies, thus encouraging investments in low-tech methods as part of effective business practices today. Vertical integration and supply chain partnerships by companies to recover legacy batteries could be more beneficial in the short term than investing large amounts of capital in new recycling facilities of whose features they are unsure. Higher-complexity and TRL methods can be developed as part of new growth engines for future businesses.

Finally, the major policy observation is the recognition that state level involvement in setting up appealing environments for private companies is a major contributor to attracting investments for local economic growth, thus necessitating the need for stronger multistakeholder engagement and collaboration in workforce development and environmental safety. Without adequate workforce development and retention programs, companies will struggle to meet and keep the labor requirements necessary to take advantage of tax credits, which could hinder their desire to set up shop in certain states.

History

Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy

Department

  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Fu Zhao

Additional Committee Member 2

Rebecca E. Ciez

Additional Committee Member 3

John W. Sutherland

Additional Committee Member 4

Stacey L. Connaughton

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