EVs: Renault launches battery recycling scheme as UK grant changes draw controversy

Pictured: The electric Renault Zoe

Groupe Renault’s new initiative was announced on Thursday (18 March) and is being delivered as part of a consortium partnership spearheaded by resource management giant Veolia and innovation firm Solvay.

It will see the companies working together to improve and scale up existing recycling processes for end-of-life EV batteries – both mechanical and hydrometallurgical.

Solvay and Veolia have already worked together to trial a process that enables metals extracted from used batteries to be purified to the point that they are ready for reuse in new batteries. Many existing processes, the firms claim, cannot get strategic metals like cobalt, nickel and lithium to this purity level.

With Groupe Renault’s involvement, the consortium will have access to more end-of-life batteries and increase its ability to add recycled metals to new products. The partnership is aiming to set up a pre-industrial scale demo plant in France in the near future.

The launch of the new partnership comes as the automotive industry faces increasing pressure to ensure that electrification, which has obvious benefits to the low-carbon transition, does not result in a future waste problem.

A 2019 study from the University of Birmingham found that the one million EVs sold in the UK in 2017 alone will generate 250,000 tonnes of battery waste when they reach the end of their lives – likely in the early-to-mid-2030s. Most of this is likely to go unrecycled, the study warned, unless collection systems and processing infrastructure scales rapidly. Since the study, the uptake of EVs by both individual motorists and businesses has accelerated; many carmakers have set more ambitious portfolio electrification commitments and nations including the UK have set an end-date for new ICE car sales.

“Groupe Renault has a holistic approach to the battery life cycle: repairing first-life batteries to extend their automotive lifespan, developing second-life applications for energy storage and setting up a system for collecting and recycling batteries,” the firm’s chief executive Luca de Meo said.

“We are proud to reinforce our commitment to battery recycling by joining forces with Veolia and Solvay. We aim at implementing innovative and low-carbon battery recycling solutions to pave the way to sustainable sourcing for strategic battery materials as electric mobility is growing. Together, we will leverage our strong presence on the entire EV value chain in Europe to take a competitive position in the battery materials market and generate value beyond our core business.”

Europe is notably home to the Battery Alliance, jointly hosted by the EU and EIT InnoEnergy.

Grants and chargers

The news comes in the same week that the UK Government amended its plug-in-car grant scheme. Individuals purchasing cars priced up to £50,000 had previously been eligible to claim up to £3000. Now, the EV price threshold has been reduced to £35,000 and the amount available to each claimant has been capped at £2,500.

The Department for Transport (DfT) stated that the changes were designed to ensure that its funding pot will last longer. Moreover, it believes that the decision to exclude more expensive EVs will ensure that the scheme is targeted at those most in need of financial assistance while encouraging automakers to accelerate reductions in upfront vehicle costs.

Reaction to the changes has been mixed. The general consensus is that, while government reconsiderations of incentives were likely unavoidable due to accelerated EV uptake and to the economic fallout of Covid-19, the changes could have been better designed.

“Cutting the grant and eligibility moves the UK even further behind other markets, markets which are increasing their support, making it yet more difficult for the UK to get sufficient supply,” the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) chief executive Mike Hawes said.

“This sends the wrong message to the consumer, especially private customers, and to an industry challenged to meet the government’s ambition to be a world leader in the transition to zero emission mobility.”

On the other hand, InstaVolt’s chief executive Adrian Keen said: “While cutting subsidies isn’t necessarily a desirable move in the drive towards electrification, I accept the decision if the intention is to make the funding stretch further by supporting more affordable EVs.

“Some commentators argue that the £35,000 threshold is set because no EVs are available below that price, but that is simply not true. Vehicle manufacturers are finally bringing a range of ‘affordable’ EVs to the market that sit beneath the £35,000 threshold – from the Mini Electric, to the Kia e-Nero – so drivers have more choice than ever.”

The Government is also facing pressure to clarify and extend its support for EV charging to complement its 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars. A recent briefing from Policy Exchange revealed that charger installation rates will need to be five times higher to support the transition.

This call to action was this week amplified by JustPark. The firm also believes that its model, whereby EV chargers can be listed online for others to reserve, could be expanded to help support a growing EV stock. Local authorities and other bodies, it argues, could collaborate to help create a “community charging network”.

“With at least 43% of car owners not having a private driveway or access to private charging, this is a major obstacle to the rollout of EVs,” JustPark said in a statement. “Therefore, private inventory is essential in helping to increase the charging network and enable more people to make the switch to electric, especially for those in lower-income households and urban dwellers without easy access to a driveway.”

Sarah George

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