To Make an Eco-Friendly EV Battery, Think From the Inside Out

Olivier Groux, a man who lives in a ivy-covered warehouse, has created a machine to disassemble batteries one by one. It looks similar to a large blue safety cabinet. This is the type you would find in an Ebola laboratory. The sides have thick gloves that allow you to safely reach the inside. It is easy to remove the metal strips from a polymer that act as electrodes. The polymer sheet is pulled through pulleys and the electrodes fly around, creating piles at the bottom of the machine. One for anodes and the other for cathodes. The electrodes will be next dissolved in water and then pass through a sieve, forming a metallic powder.
Groux is the head of the Kyburz recycling program, a small family-owned company that produces electric vehicles. It is most well-known for its three-wheeled vehicle, which was favored by the Swiss postal services. This is the only EV company to select its batteries with reuse in mind. After batteries have been used up, they are often repurposed and used in other vehicles, such as personal scooters or solar-powered storage units. Finally, after these second and sometimes even third lives, they can be dismantled by Grouxs machinery into materials that are reusable. It is our goal to make new batteries out of dead batteries as efficiently and economically as possible. Groux believes he is close to achieving it.

Kyburz estimates this process can recover more than 90% of the materials contained in its batteries. This includes some parts such as the plastic casing that are often destroyed by other recycling methods. Groux says that the machinery is simple to use and generates very little waste. He said that if you can make a battery, it is easy to take it apart. The material from the small number of dead batteries in the company's stock is being sent to a laboratory for testing. Groux hopes that he will find a European manufacturer of batteries to replace the Kyburz battery as more Kyburz batteries are lost.

Kyburz's unique process avoids shredding which is the most common fate of EV batteries. Shredding results in the battery pack being consumed completely and transformed into a pile called black mass. This is followed by acid treatment to remove valuable minerals such as nickel or cobalt. Startups that use these techniques to save millions of EV batteries are attracting billions of dollars from investors.

Many batteries are shredded as they can't be disassembled like the ones in Kyburzs cars. They are designed to store the most energy in the smallest area, which allows a car to travel further on each charge. This is logical and necessary: Anxiety over range is one of the greatest obstacles to electric vehicle adoption. However, this anxiety has made battery pack design a chaotic mess over time. The complex interior of a battery packs, which is usually found at the bottom of a vehicle's base, hides a complicated machine. It contains modules that are sealed with glues or laser welding. These modules include arrays of cells and cooling cables to prevent overheating or fires. Although the shape and content of these cells can vary, one particularly energy-dense design is to wrap the cathodes and anodes around each others to create what Tesla engineers affectionately call a jellyroll.