Mapping GHG emissions in the battery supply chain is one of Tesla's top priorities. The manufacturer significantly reduces its GHG emissions using a closed-loop battery recycling process, successfully recycling up to 92 percent of battery raw materials.
Upstream GHG emissions from manufacturing an EV battery—from raw material extraction through refining and transportation of materials—can be meaningful. Tesla estimates that these specific activities cause up to ~80% of the total Model 3 battery emissions, with the largest contribution coming from the chemical processing step. However, a closed-loop battery recycling process presents a compelling solution to move energy supply away from the fossil-fuel based practice of take, make, and burn, to a more circular model of recycling end-of-life batteries for reuse over and over again, Tesla said in its 2021 Impact Report.
The manufacturer points out that an important difference between fossil fuels and lithium-ion batteries as an energy source is that fossil fuels are mined and used once, while the materials in a lithium-ion battery are recyclable. The process of extraction, processing, and the use of oil releases toxic emissions into the atmosphere that cannot be recovered for reuse. At the same time, the materials from which the batteries are made are cleaned and placed in the cell where they remain until the end of their service life. After that, they can be recycled, and valuable metals recovered and reused.
Tesla claims that extending battery life is a better option than recycling for both environmental and commercial reasons. Before decommissioning and disposing of consumer batteries, the manufacturer makes every effort to extend the life of each battery. To do this, for example, the company sends out over-the-air software updates to Tesla vehicles to improve battery performance when its engineers find new ways to do so. In addition, any battery that is no longer meeting a customer's needs can be serviced at a Tesla Service Center.
Every battery used in R&D or returned from the field that cannot be re-manufactured is recycled. Tesla batteries, including the battery packs in its vehicles and its energy storage products, are made to last many years, and therefore, the company has received a limited number of them back from the field. Most of the batteries the company recycles today are pre-consumer and come from Tesla as a result of R&D and quality control.
The company said that all scrapped lithium-ion batteries are not sent to landfills and are 100% recyclable. In addition, Tesla has an established internal ecosystem to re-manufacture batteries that are sent to service centers from the field. The manufacturer actively implements the principles of the circular economy, and considers all other options before choosing to recycle batteries.
While Tesla works with third-party recyclers, the company itself also recycles. In 2020, Tesla successfully installed the first phase of its own cell recycling plant at Gigafactory Nevada to internally recycle both battery waste and end-of-life batteries. On-site recycling brought the company closer to closing the material loop, allowing for raw material transfer straight to its nickel and cobalt suppliers. The facility opens the innovation cycle for large-scale battery recycling, allowing Tesla to rapidly improve current designs through operational learning and technology testing of R&D products. By the end of 2021, this plant reached a capacity of over 50 tons of recycled material per week.
With the introduction of its own production of battery cells at Giga Berlin and Giga Texas, the manufacturer expects substantial increases in manufacturing scrap globally. Tesla intends to tailor recycling solutions for each location and thus reintroduce valuable materials back into its manufacturing process. The company's goal is to develop a safe recycling process with high recovery, low costs, and minimal environmental impact. From an economic standpoint, Tesla expects significant savings over the long term, as the costs associated with large-scale remanufacturing and recycling of battery materials will be much lower than the cost of acquiring additional raw materials to produce cells.
© 2022, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.