A Tesla battery is designed to last between 300,000 and 500,000 miles, which gives the average Tesla a lifespan of 20 years or more before its battery needs to be replaced.
You may think that this long battery life means recycling EV batteries isn’t something we need to worry about right now. However, battery recycling is actually a major issue for the EV industry.
Some EVs have been on the road for well over a decade (the first Tesla Roadster was delivered in 2008), and other vehicles have had their life cut short by faults or accidents. This means there is already a significant number of EV batteries that need to be recycled or disposed of, and this number will only grow as EVs increase in popularity.
But are Tesla batteries recyclable? And, even if they are, does Tesla actually bother to recycle its batteries, or is it easier and cheaper to make new batteries from scratch?
What Does Tesla Do With Old Batteries?
All of Tesla’s scrapped lithium-ion batteries are recycled. The raw materials extracted from scrapped batteries are then used to make new battery cells. Tesla does not send any batteries to landfill.
Lithium-ion batteries contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate water supplies, and there are global shortages of crucial battery materials, such as nickel. Therefore, the last thing the EV company wants to do is put all its old batteries into landfill.
Rather than wasting valuable materials and polluting the environment, Tesla wants to run a closed-loop recycling system, with raw materials from scrapped batteries used to create new batteries for their vehicles.
Tesla asks customers to return batteries to the company via a Tesla Service Center, ready for the battery to be recycled at a Tesla battery factory or through a partner company such as ERI or Redwood Materials.
How Does Tesla Recycle Old Batteries?
Tesla uses a process called hydrometallurgy to recycle its old lithium-ion batteries. This involves crushing the battery cathodes and anodes, dissolving the material in acid, then using processes including precipitation to separate the raw materials ready for re-use.
The first step in the recycling process is to consider whether the battery really needs to be recycled at all. Tesla carefully examines each battery that is returned to its Service Centers to see whether the battery’s life can be extended. The company only proceeds with the recycling process when the battery cannot possibly be used any longer.
Before the battery cells can be recycled, they must be removed from the battery pack. This can be a difficult and time-consuming process, as Tesla battery cells are tightly glued together within a steel casing.
Once the cells are separated, the electrodes are crushed into a “black mass” consisting of materials such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel.
Next, mineral acids are added to dissolve the different materials within the black mass. Before a process of precipitation removes impurities and “froth flotation” separates the materials.
Once the individual raw materials are recovered, they are prepared for shipping to battery factories, where they will be used to make new battery cells.
How Much of the Battery Does Tesla Recycle?
Tesla recycles every one of its lithium-ion batteries, with no batteries sent to landfill. However, it is not yet possible to recycle 100% of each battery. According to Tesla’s 2021 Impact Report, the company can recycle 92% of the raw materials in a Tesla battery and use them again to make new lithium-ion battery cells.
This means that for every 1000 kWh worth of scrapped batteries, the company is able to recycle 921 kWh worth of materials to manufacture new battery cells.
Tesla is constantly working to improve its battery recycling capability, as it avoids batteries going to landfill and large-scale battery recycling has the potential to be far cheaper, more reliable, and better for the environment than mining raw materials to make new batteries.