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The biggest EV battery recycling plant in the US is open for business (canarymedia.com)
492 points by orangebanana1 on April 10, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments



We have a dearth of battery-grade metals refining in America. Battery plants need specialised powders to do their work. Making them isn’t easy.

Many aspiring refiners brand themselves as recyclers, since turning metals and old batteries into battery-grade powder is more similar than one would expect. (Lithium carbonate.)


That's interesting. Can you expound on this?


> Can you expound on this?

Which part?


>turning metals and old batteries into battery-grade powder is more similar than one would expect.


Recycling batteries involves shredding them into black mass [1] and then extracting lithium carbonate from it. This is the same stuff lithium from mines and brine fields is processed into [2]. (Carbonate is processed into lithium hydroxide [3], the stuff we trade [4] and mix in batteries.)

In summary, they all start with pulverized stuff from which lithium carbonate is extracted and turned into lithium hydroxide. The fact that it's batteries versus rock just changes the front end; nothing downstream could care less.

[1] https://catalysts.basf.com/blog/lets-talk-recycling-what-is-...

[2] https://samcotech.com/what-is-lithium-extraction-and-how-doe...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_hydroxide

[4] https://www.cmegroup.com/markets/metals/battery-metals/lithi...


If they make it to that far. A really offensive thing in this area is disposable vapes. The rechargable ones are this close to being reusable. Heck if you take them apart and put in juice, they are. But the sheer number of them that just get thrown in the trash, with their lithium-ion battery, is disgusting. I ask all my friends that vape to give theirs to me when they die, then I take them apart and bring the batteries to a recycler. Those things should be illegal on the basis of wasting lithium but I assume they're made in China which is where a good portion of the world's lithium comes from, so there's little chance thet'll change be stopped.


Do you have a rough idea of how much they're worth? I'm curious if something similar to so-called "bottle bills"[0] could fix that.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Container-deposit_legislation


Not sure how effective these schemes are - at least from what I've seen. There's a lot of "double dipping" i.e. people put it in designated recycling bins out of free will and then scavengers come to pull the worthy items out of those bins to get paid. Recycling hasn't been encouraged but money has been lost (paid out).

Often people that care about recycling aren't in it for the money and those that are don't care about actually recycling something.


> people put it in designated recycling bins out of free will and then scavengers come to pull the worthy items out of those bins to get paid.

That's not a problem from the pov of people putting them in the bins. Their concern was that batteries make it to a recycler, not that money is saved.

Overall, I feel like people think way too much about money, money changing hands is often worthless as an indicator of actual impact.


Money as in we're talking about recycling schemes that offer a payout.


Open top bins? Is that really a big problem, percentage-wise? I mean I'm sure it's a problem, but I'm skeptical it's that big a percentage. That's also one such way of dealing with the recycling and where it goes. Elsewhere I've seen machines which accept cans and such, and dispense value from fridge-size metal machines like at the grocery store.


Just like collecting cardboard, it only takes 1-2 people to go through streets / stations of bins for themselves. Literally every recycling bin I see at a station or otherwise is scavenged upon.

Haven't seen many more advanced machines here, but those go back to the same problem - it takes more time than dumping it into an open bin "on your way". This leads to people not recycling it.

There's also the fact that a lot of countries don't actually have the capabilities to recycle even if they collect it. Yes real capacity. It's been uncovered many times where recycling just takes a roundabout tour back to the dumps. There's also a huge amount of fraud in this area. Companies take the money and send to China or other places.

The theory of recycling is good but more needs to be done to actually get it going.

Batteries on the other hand... they're worth more so just maybe... but there have been lots of electronics recycling fraud just as well...


    Flume   18350   550mah  new, $1.80    
    Elfbar  16350   650mAh  new, $2.66    
18350: https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/1100mah-3-7v-Battery-...

16350: https://www.aliexpress.us/item/3256802959295031.html

I have no idea how to sell them locally, or who I'd even sell them to though.


Hmmm so they don’t really disassemble the batteries. They just grind them all up and then use physical and chemical processes to filter the bits they want?

I guess this makes sense at scale. I’m not sure what I was picturing.


Generally, all forms of recycling that reauire manual dis-assebly don't really work. Labour cost is too much. Broken and damaged items dont dissasemble. each itme is unique, that sort of thing. Thats why plastic recycling and electribics recycling doesn't work.

Recycling of metals and glass succeedd because you can just grind and melt everything.


So when I’m asked to obsessively clean out my aluminum recycling, I’ve always assumed that’s just a favour to their equipment. But surely the process expects FOD and messy cans.


It's staged and transported. So like the less food there is at the collection site the less stink and rodents there will be.


Additionally the health and safety of workers from direct biohazard contamination.


I've always wondered this. In my small town in The Netherlands, plastic and metal go in the same recycling sack. They specifically state that you don't need to obsessively clean the containers, but they should be "empty". I'm sure I've accidentally tossed some paper in there, but I assume that gets burned away at some point.

But how they sort it afterwards? I have no idea. Not all metal is conductive, though I have to assume they do some magnetized sorting. Plastic can probably be blown away for sorting further down the line.

Might need to explore this more in the near future!


There's a whole process. In the US, "Bulk Handling Systems" seems to be the leading company in the sorting of recyclables. There are shredders, shakers, air separators to pull out the light stuff, DC magnets for ferrous metals, AC magnets for aluminum, multispectral vision sorters for different plastics, and even AI vision guided robot pickers. Most of the sorting is done with big, simple machines. The robotics just picks out unwanted stuff missed by the earlier steps to give clean product that can be sold. That was a big insight in this business - you need some machine intelligence, but it's a small part of the overall system.

It's simpler and cheaper to machine sort the stuff at one location than have lots of little bins into which people mis-sort stuff. Most of the cost is out collecting the stuff, not sorting it, and single-stream recycling simplifies the collecting.


Look in to how a materials recovery facility works https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materials_recovery_facility

My city has one and there are several others serving smaller areas, recycling is commingled and mixed materials are accepted.


My thought was the melting process burns most of it off and then the ash gets skimmed off the top.

not worth it to clean yourself.


Isn't most plastic we'd think of recycling (bottles, food containers, utensils, etc) thermoplastic, and able to melted and reformed like you described?


I suppose they disassemble large racks of batteries, to remove the strong structural metal which us hard to shred, and maybe copper wires that are expensive. But not farther.

Individual cells are shredded, the cover metal is removed by magnets, anything soluble is removed by water or other solvents, whatever remains possibly may be further processed, or can go safely to a landfill.


Nooooo! you can't use wikipedia as a source it's not reliable >:(

jkjk. Thanks for sharing!


I'm not really an expert, but one obvious thing is you need to take non-pure metals and purify them. Recyclable batteries fail when the chemicals instead chemically combine with something other what you intend them to, crystalize, or otherwise become not the pure metal you start with. That impure metal is not conceptually different from ore, and the same process to turn ore into battery material must be done.

Note that ore is more complex as you need to remove a lot more non-battery stuff, while in a used battery what you want is still in fairly high concentration, just not in the form a battery needs.


As an ignoramous ; what is it about Lithium specificall that makes it special to batteries?

Is is that it freely ejects electrons at a higher rate than other materials, given a certain catalyst?


Generally yeah - it is both willing to give up and take back electrons pretty easily (so, discharging and charging) but in the modern era another really important factor is that it balances having these properties and also being very light relative to the amount of energy it can hold in a battery. Good for portable applications like cell phones, cars, etc.


Lithium is at the top, so you get the most voltage per molecule.

Then there’s other factors like discharge recharge, temperatures, all that, but lithium is basically the best if you can get the other factors to play nice too:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Tables/electpot.h...


That was covered in my college chemistry class, but I took it 25 years ago and don't really remember the details. Electro negativity comes to mind, but I might have the terms wrong. In any case the laws of chemistry apply.


Shanghai Metal Market lists used Lithium-ion battery material/battery scrap

https://www.metal.com/price/New%20Energy/Used-Lithium-ion-Ba...

About 95% of Lithium can be reused.


Adding to this, a reminder that lithium ion batteries contain very little lithium, and it's not elemental - an extremely common misconception leading to people thinking that they can't use water to stop a pack undergoing thermal runaway / on fire - something that can only be stopped via the cooling effect of water.


Training materials for firefighters use the phrase "copious quantities of water".[1] That's just for scooter and e-bike sized fires. FDNY recommends knocking down the fire with water to a level where a shovel can be used to dump the battery into a bathtub or bucket filled with water. That prevents re-ignition. FDNY has a huge problem with cheap scooters and e-bikes catching fire in residential structures.

Current thinking for electric vehicle fires is to let them burn out unless there's a threat to something nearby. If there is, 8 hours of spraying water on the vehicle usually works. But then the mess may re-ignite.

[1] https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Qxo7u9Z5cI1tNC5BzFwt9QOik78...


> FDNY has a huge problem with cheap scooters and e-bikes catching fire in residential structures.

For those interested, it's shitty imported cheap products, and/or (and I believe this is more common) cheap shitty third party chargers that overload the BMS/don't shut off correctly when they are supposed to.

Buy reputable brands (lots and lots of the scooters and e-bikes you see are just re-branded stuff from the same Chinese OEM) and don't get a third party charger, stick to first-party ones.


Easier said than done. Shopping on Amazon makes the cheap products look just as legitimate as the expensive products.


The one can look suspiciously close to the other, to the point that when I look at the individual cells I still have a hard time. Usually weighing them will give you some way to discriminate the cells, BMS's are totally opaque. If I have a hard time telling the knock offs from the real deal how do you expect someone that is only interested in the use, and not in the tech, to tell the difference?


Have you ever played around with putting water on a burning lipo pack?

I’ve damaged a number of lipo cell pouches (my hobby uses a lot of them) and water does make them burn more aggressively in the short term. It’ll go from smoldering to shooting a foot of fire with a splash of water.


So aside from the lithium, what is causing the runaway thermal to fire/explosion??


The electrolyte is very flammable and a short circuit provides the temperature to ignite it. Some lithium battery chemistries (LFP is probably the most common, but LTO as well) are much less likely to burn when they fail catastrophically.


Can LFP experience thermal runaway? I was under the impression you could put a nail through an LFP cell and It'd mostly be fine.


Yes, but it is the most tame of common chemistries.

https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2014/ra/c3ra4574...


Nickel and Cobalt. This metal oxids creates molecular oxigen.

This oxygen feeds the fire and make it hard to fight.

Lithium iron phosphate do not show this kind of reaction.


Yes and no. Lithium metal is the highly reactive element in batteries.

Similar to Hydrogen and Sodium, elements in the first column of the periodic table are highly reactive (flammable) because they readily give away their single electron in the outermost orbital.

Some Lithium battery variants might have marginally safer properties, but they are fundamentally volatile at full charge.


Commercial lithium ion batteries do not contain metallic lithium in the charged or uncharged state. They have lithium ions intercalated into the anode material in the charged state.

Primary (disposable) lithium batteries do contain metallic lithium in the charged state, and there are efforts to develop rechargeable batteries using pure lithium metal at the anode. Rechargeable batteries that contain metallic lithium anodes would be able to store more energy, but they are also more hazardous and currently have low cycle life.


Most batteries have lithium complexes (cobalt oxide, iron phosphate, and so on) though, not elemental Li, and so have different properties.


This sort of recycling will never be competitive or viable compared with the economies of scale present in the mining industry. It’s just amazing what they will do to completely destroy other competitors (other mines). They aren’t concerned about recyclers and laugh about them because of how small and boutique they are in terms of volumes but I’ve seen companies do things like run a mine at a loss for years to snuff out competitors, or buy up broke recyclers and shut them down or fold them into their current operations (read: defund their budgets and run a skeleton operation) so they can get certain government benefits, comply with regulations all the while protecting the volumes from their mining operations.

Investing in recycling means competing directly with the mines which are highly consolidated and incredibly powerful. They do not care about recycling by the nature and culture of their businesses. It’s a fool’s errand and I’ve seen so many investors loose their entire investment over and over again.

If you like loosing money, by all means, invest in recycling. At the end of the day these recycling businesses are undesirable —- they are capital intensive, high risk, low yield with a weak consumer market. They are most definitely not carbon neutral in their end to end operations. They don’t even typically provide good paying jobs for the communities they serve because the unit economics are so poor. The only 10+ year surviving companies exist almost entirely on government subsidies and aren’t real businesses. Communities don’t want them either so that’s why they are always in the middle of nowhere.

All the private activities are all the same — typically some VC or rich investor will pair up with a charismatic founders and try to do it because hey environment I feel good doing good. But then just wait a few years when they get tired of shoveling money in by the truckload.

The joke goes for every $1 of material recycled, $10 of cash is burned.


Quick searches seem to suggest the processing is about $100 per ton with resulting materials worth several times that. Do you have any figures comparing mining vs recycling for these materials? And more interestingly, trends for those numbers? I imagine the recycling costs will improve due to increasing supply of input materials while the cost of mining will remain the same or even increase (as available resources shrink)?


This is why there should be a resource extraction tax instead of a value added tax.


Yes, if we give the government 10x more tax per electric vehicle then recycling suddenly has none of these problems and is instantly solved.

If it’s cheaper to mine, then mine. I won’t weep for the cobalt and lithium piles.


It's not about cost, it is about protecting the planet and every resource that is extracted that could be recycled is never coming back.


> and every resource that is extracted that could be recycled is never coming back

This is better read as “and never will be in the current economic climate”. It’s not like the used batteries are launched into space.


Which bears the question- how different are spent batteries from refined lithium ore? Can you just mix them into the ore at 1-10 parts per 100?


...And then you end up with mafias burning e-waste in illegal landfills.

Sure, processing used material is expensive, but all that's mined has to be disposed of, and if it's not expensive, it's most likely fuelling criminal organizations.


I mean, recycling something cheap like plastic is generally a waste of time, it’s hard to argue anything else. But, whole industries exist around scrapping metals, and extracting gold from old electronics is lucrative. Lithium is more valuable than most metals that have healthy scrapping industries, so I disagree that it’s never going to work.


Plastic recycling is generally rated by Lifecycle Cost Analysis as a good thing. It's cheaper and better for the environment and saves carbon, compared with incineration (which is okay if it displaces fossil fuels and filters pollutants) which in turn is better than landfill.

The main input for plastics is currently fossil fuels so there's a lot of misinformation about it, as there is for anything else that would harm fossil fuel sales.

Ironically, they seem to have just given more momentum to the push to ban single use plastics and reduce its use generally.

Propagandists that used to say recycling plastic didn't work are now promoting it to fend off outright bans. The only thing that remains consistent in their approach is "what benefits fossil fuel interests?".


It's worth a loss to protect the environment


Super cool development. Love seeing people actually acting on the laws of of supply and demand.

> The scrap and used batteries go through mechanical shredding and sieving, which produces “black mass.” Ascend extracts lithium carbonate from the mass; the remaining mass contains materials such as graphite, nickel, cobalt and manganese.

The article brags about the input, but is cagey on the details of the about. Of the 30k tons processed in a year, what percentage is reconstituted?


Almost certainly a larger percentage than you'd imagine.

LI ion batteries are composed mostly of Nickel and Steel. Both of which are highly recyclable. The fact that they are also able to pull out the lithium is really pretty impressive.

The structure of a LI ion battery is essentially a steel case with a metal foil (iron or nickel) coated with a lithium/cobalt/silicon/carbon/phosphorous powder.


I find this comment strange since TFA talks about investment from the US government. I guess if by supply and demand, you mean the government demands clean energy and then the market supplies it, that could work, but this decade has been all about the private sector whistling past the graveyard of climate change.


Glad my homestate is making decent strides towards building new things. We just had a nuclear reactor come online, a rivian EV truck factory is here, and now this. We do a bunch of naughty things but I can be proud of these at least.


This is likely due to GA's extensive rail network[0].

[0] – https://opendata.atlantaregional.com/datasets/GARC::railroad...


Man, if only we could use some of that for passenger rail... Being able to go from Atlanta to Savannah without a car would be awesome.


It's a nice idea but keep in mind that any freight which gets displaced from rail thanks to passenger cars would have to go by truck instead, probably with a massive increase in net emissions. Having passengers and freight share track in the US is probably not a win for the environment; passengers would need separate track instead.


Adding passenger traffic does not necessarily require displacing freight traffic.

Here's a document that contains a map of current rail density: https://www.dot.ga.gov/InvestSmart/Freight/GeorgiaFreight/Ta...


But things like "okay now wait on this random section of tracks for 3 hours because of a pass and traffic down stream" are routine on freight lines, but obviously not desirable for passenger rail.


They are routine on American freight lines, where there are a lot of single track lines and political issues between the freight companies and passenger trains.

https://openrailwaymap.org/ shows (if you zoom in far enough) that at least some lines around Atlanta are only single track. https://www.trains.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/multi-trac... suggests most of them are.

It isn't a common issue in Russia or China (similar rail freight use to the USA). Double tracks means no waiting for opposing trains, and it's then straightforward to fit passenger trains, which stop at stations but go faster, between constant speed freight trains.

It does mean twice as much track must be maintained to a higher standard than freight-only track.


Unless the train is overly long (an actual problem) passenger rail always gets priority.


You have that backwards. Low occupancy vehicle travel is the most wasteful form of personal transit.

Rail passengers displaced by freight become low occupancy vehicle trips.

In my state, a commuter rail coach car has about 180 seats. Let's be cautious and assume 50% occupancy.

That's 90 people, and based off the US passenger car fleet averaging 25mpg, they collectively would have used 3.6 gallons of gas per mile.

An eighteen wheeler gets 5-10 miles per gallon.

Even assuming just 5mpg, the passengers in that one coach car would have used eighteen times more fuel than the truck hauling a container would.

Furthermore: freight and passenger use of rail are not mutually exclusive uses. Freight is in theory far less sensitive to scheduling, and like a lot of trucked freight, can happen during times passenger use is low. But because industry has squeezed their supply chains to the hair of breaking under "just in time delivery" to minimize warehouse space and the like...which bit us pretty severely in the pandemic...freight companies are optimizing for shareholder profits and own the tracks. So they prioritize their freight over passengers. Result? Passenger service is riddled with service issues, leading to less passenger use, which is fine as far as the freight companies are concerned, because they can move more freight.

The core problem is that critical infrastructure is being run privately by for-profit publicly traded companies.


So you build more rail


> build more rail

Passenger rail doesn't tend to break even on long-distance dedicated routes, even taking into account externalities.


It doesn't have to. How much do our freeways cost us? esp with externalities?


>How much do our freeways cost us? esp with externalities?

Rail also has cost, including externalities. For example, as a wise person on the Internet once said, "Trains take you from a place you don't live to a place you're not going to." The "last-mile problem" is a non-trivial factor to building train networks which by definition is not solvable by more rail.

You're considering a cost analysis. A more complete analysis is the benefit-cost analysis (BCA). If the benefits outweigh the costs, the project is a net positive for society. Asking only how much our freeways cost us avoids consideration of the known benefits. Here's a BCA from 2021 which investigates a highway project, so you can see exactly how much freeways benefit and cost us: https://www.mdot.maryland.gov/OPCP/I-81BCA_Report.pdf

>It doesn't have to.

That's a nice sentiment, but sometimes the energy required to reform is higher than expected losses. The entire Amtrak network is kept afloat because of a handful of lines in New England between DC, New York, and Boston. Amtrak basically runs a loss everywhere else.


> The "last-mile problem" is a non-trivial factor to building train networks which by definition is not solvable by more rail.

The trivial answer is to build out last-mile services: trams, buses, actually usable bike lanes, and something that could perfectly well work in US suburbia hell (wide, but barely frequented streets): automated "people movers".


You say last-mile services are trivial, but they absolutely are not trivial in the slightest, and assuming they are demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how change gets made in a democratic, even republican, manner.

Changing the primary transportation mode of a population requires a cultural shift to adopt the new mode. The population must be willing to forgo what they already have in favor of something new. You are saying that automated "people movers" (which is an emotional sketch rather than an defined policy item) will work well in car-ubiquitous US suburbia, but these folks live in suburbia specifically because of low population density and general quality-of-life. They explicitly enjoy being around people they know and not being around people they don't know. Any solution you're proposing must respect their existing values while providing an alternative option.

Your examples of last-mile services aren't really last-mile services, save for the final one:

>trams

Since it seems infeasible to allow anyone to board a tram at any point on its journey, tram stops will be necessary. Perhaps you now face a last-quarter-mile problem, which is better but still may not be good enough for that specific population. Track maintenance may be significantly lessened by using a "trackless tram", but such would have severe challenges in a snowy climate. Trams only work in dense urban environments.

>buses

Buses have been used in cities for many decades, so our understanding of them is that they work generally well. Buses are common in suburban environments with many low-income residents. The benefit of buses is their limited amount of supporting infrastructure and route adaptability. However, similar to the tram situation, a bus still does not get you directly to your home.

>actually usable bike lanes

Bike lanes in dense urban environments are almost always a net positive. What constitutes an "actually usable" bike lane depends on an individual's risk tolerance. As a last-mile problem, not all people are physically able to bike from a train station, though ebikes do help. Again, weather can impact people being willing to bike, let alone leave the house.

>automated "people movers"

This service is more conceptual, but I imagine you're thinking of a Waymo-style service, where you can summon an autonomous vehicle which will pick you up at home and take you to-and-from the station. The main issues here are availability and reliability. If addressed, you'll likely crack the suburban transportation nut, but such individualized transportation in cities isn't sustainable.


> You say last-mile services are trivial, but they absolutely are not trivial in the slightest, and assuming they are demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how change gets made in a democratic, even republican, manner.

I"m not sure what point you are making here. The UK, Germany, and Japan have very good rail networks and were democratically governed the last time I looked.


> You say last-mile services are trivial, but they absolutely are not trivial in the slightest, and assuming they are demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how change gets made in a democratic, even republican, manner.

We had an entire public transit system that included the "last mile." It was systematically destroyed by the automotive industry.

The reset of the developed world has much better public transit. Terrible public transit isn't quite a uniquely American problem, but it's close.

Do go on about how it's "absolutely not trivial in the slightest", though.

> As a last-mile problem, not all people are physically able to bike from a train station, though ebikes do help

Biking takes less energy and fitness than walking does, even at a faster speed. Before you argue with me, google it, please. Before you start whinging about the elderly: the people old enough to not be able to bike are about 10% or less of the population, and since bike lanes are not the only option, "the elderly can't do it" isn't even a valid counterpoint anyway.


>Do go on about how it's "absolutely not trivial in the slightest", though.

It's not trivial because, as you note, past efforts WERE systematically destroyed by the automotive industry. Getting better public infrastructure is an advocacy problem, and the political environment needs to be supportive of such efforts.

Also, you may be referencing the streetcars systems used by many cities about 100 years ago, which were destroyed by the auto industry in favor of their buses. Now that electric buses exist, I would much rather live in a city with a fleet of electric buses than electric streetcars. Some US cities are even implementing the point-to-point-charging supercapacitor buses, which is even more sustainable.

>Biking takes less energy and fitness than walking does, even at a faster speed.

No argument there. I bike multiple times a week in a large US city, even during rush hour and traffic jams. More people should bike, especially because of the health benefits, and most US cities will benefit from better bike infrastructure. We can look to Amsterdam and other European places for good examples of bike transportation and storage infrastructure.

That said, biking in Amsterdam is very different than biking in much of the US. The Wikipedia article on Amsterdam says the average high over a year ranges between 43F - 72F. What an ideal climate for biking; no wonder so many people there bike. I've biked in traffic in snowstorms in one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US, and I was usually the only person out there. People just don't like to bike in the cold and extreme heat. People just don't like to be out in the cold and extreme heat in general, which is why personal vehicles are so appealing in those places.


> Now that electric buses exist, I would much rather live in a city with a fleet of electric buses than electric streetcars

Nah, this just makes it obvious you never commuted using public transit tbh. Trams feel much more stable, have more room, and their routes are easier to reason about. Trams always end up more desirable than buses, which sway, feel crowded, and rattle due to uneven road surface.


If you make dedicated bus lanes and rewrite the traffic laws so that busses have right of way at all intersections, then busses could replace trams (or streetcars). But without these you allow individuals to block the public transport infrastructure which means there's no advantage to the far more space efficient public transport methods.


> You say last-mile services are trivial, but they absolutely are not trivial in the slightest

I'm German. Europeans in general have tons of experience with running public transport in constrained-budget scenarios. Just ask us if you need help.

> and assuming they are demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how change gets made in a democratic, even republican, manner.

If democracy doesn't implement change on its own, rising prices of gasoline, changing attitudes of Gen X and demographic requirements (SAHMs with nothing to do but drive children around on errands won't be around for much longer given that these women will be part of the working class by necessity) will.

Those still thinking that they can keep on living like they did since the 50s are deluding themselves and their peers. Democracy can't override market forces or nature.

> However, similar to the tram situation, a bus still does not get you directly to your home.

You can make bus stops dense enough to achieve walking distances < 200m. Unlike trams, buses can stop very fast which makes dynamic stops (i.e. the bus only stops when people want to enter/exit) possible and most bus lines already operate that way.

> As a last-mile problem, not all people are physically able to bike from a train station, though ebikes do help.

You're constantly bringing up the "not everyone can use it" point, which is valid on its own but no one, even the most radical Greens, calls for banning people with disabilities from having a car as transportation. The goal is to get the remaining 99% of local/regional individual-transportation traffic to use shared services.

> This service is more conceptual, but I imagine you're thinking of a Waymo-style service, where you can summon an autonomous vehicle which will pick you up at home and take you to-and-from the station. The main issues here are availability and reliability. If addressed, you'll likely crack the suburban transportation nut, but such individualized transportation in cities isn't sustainable.

I rather thought of electric "micro buses", think like the size of a VW T4 van, that autonomously drive in a 5-minute schedule through the suburbs and people just can hop on and off wherever they want. Basically, just as flexible as a car, but usable by everyone. Your idea is also great, but I'd not say that it isn't sustainable in cities - to the contrary, especially cities will be going towards that route. Already, London drastically restricts driving into the city, a number of city cores in Germany are no-car, Barcelona plans to have 60% of it's streets car-free.


>I'm German. Europeans in general have tons of experience with running public transport in constrained-budget scenarios. Just ask us if you need help.

I'm sure some of us will. That said, Europe is only directly comparable to the Northeast in terms of geography, climate, and population density. The US is truly massive, and each part of the country has distinct cultural norms which may or may not support public transit development.

According to this page (https://nytransit.org/resources/public-transit-facts), ~60% of people on public transit are commuters. Here's a 2021 study from our Census Bureau on commuters using public transit in the US (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/public-t...). The key points:

>About 5% of all U.S. workers in 2019 commuted by public transportation.

>Commuters use buses (46.3% of all public transportation commuters, or about 3.6 million people); subway or elevated rail (37.7%), long-distance train or commuter rail (11.8%); light rail, streetcar or trolley (3.1%); and ferryboat (1.0%).

>Roughly 3 million of the nation’s 7.8 million public transportation commuters lived in the New York metro area.

>70% of the nation’s public transportation commuters live in one of the seven largest metropolitan areas.

>The percentage of workers who commuted by public transportation varied by region. The Northeast had the highest share of workers who commuted by transit, at 14.3%, followed by the West (4.4%), the Midwest (3.0%), and the South (2.0%).

>The percentage of U.S. workers commuting by public transportation fell from 12.1% in 1960 to around 5.0% in 2019.

The most surprising statistic to me is that NYC accounts for roughly 40% of public transportation commuters in the country. The rest make general sense.

>The goal is to get the remaining 99% of local/regional individual-transportation traffic to use shared services.

Well, that is YOUR goal. The vast majority of Americans do not live in dense urban environments, so most will not support your goal. That's okay; we have our own mixture of geographic, climate, and population density realities which differ from your own. (Actually, you would be better served talking about measures in different states rather than the US as a whole, because we're built state-first, not federal-first like all European countries save for Switzerland.)

You might find it interesting that, in some parts of US suburbia, individuals and families roam around towns riding electric golf carts instead of cars using separate roadway infrastructure.

As an American who (1) generally supports mass transit and non-personal-car modes of transportation while (2) understanding the globally-unique geographic, climate, population density, and cultural realities of the US, here's how I envision mass transit will look in a few decades across the US:

>Planes: widely used everywhere, airports are linked to urban centers by rail or BRT

>Trains: same cross-country lines exist, Northeast network continues strong, train networks in Florida and on the Pacific Coast expand, lightly used for regular transit in 80% of states

>Light-rail/subway: most major US cities have one, existing networks see varying degrees of expansion, ridership increases handled by more frequent trains

>Trams: used in dense urban cores of major US cities which do not have extensive light-rail/subway network, sees strong ridership, trackless more prevalent than track

>Streetcars: limited use, electric trams or buses more preferred due to track and electrification infrastructure and maintenance costs

>BRT: widely deployed across major urban areas, used to either extend light-rail/subway reach or provide hub-to-destination travel

>Buses: still widely used, expanded service in both urban and suburban areas, direct home-to-station travel facilitated by autonomous microbuses

>Bike infrastructure: widely deployed across all major urban areas and most suburban areas, virtually all old railroads converted to bikeways, some new bikeway construction for commuters, protected bike lanes in all dense urban cores

>Cars: still used each and every day by the majority of Americans, many are electric, some are autonomous


> Trains take you from a place you don't live to a place you're not going to.

Airplanes have the exact same problem, but I don't see people saying we should stop investing in airports.

For long distance travel, I don't think it's a huge problem that you might need multiple modes of transit to get all the way from A to B.


Different model. Planes have much greater network effects. Consider a trip between New York and Dallas. A plane can fly a direct route, and will if there is much demand.

A train system can’t do that… in my example you’ll end up either going South along the coast and then west through New Orleans to San Antonio, and then back north to Dallas, or the same but reach Mew Orleans via Chicago.

Trains work well when there is a large central(ish) city that can act as a hub? Like London, Paris, or Berlin. Not so well in the US where the population is heavily biased towards the outer rim, with a relatively a gaunt desert of nothing in the middle.


Trains are too slow for long distance travel. They are useful for short and medium distance travel, but for such trips travel time to the station becomes more important. If this isn't made convenient people will quickly decide their car is better: it goes when they want to go, and goes directly to where they want to be.


>Airplanes have the exact same problem, but I don't see people saying we should stop investing in airports.

Fair point. We should then see if air travel holds a key advantage over rail travel in the USA. As I see it, the answer is in both space and time savings, both of which minimize cost and maximize benefit. The time savings are particularly pronounced, especially over distances greater than, say, a few hundred miles. Happy to elaborate on the savings in more detail, if you desire such.

>For long distance travel, I don't think it's a huge problem that you might need multiple modes of transit to get all the way from A to B.

That is, of course, your opinion. I'm sure there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Americans who will strongly disagree with you because they are, in no particular order: feeble, disabled, terrified of a particular mode of transit, hurried, cost-conscious, traveling with multiple young children, etc.


Freeways are amazingly cheap. 1 mile of new 6-lane freeway on level terrain is about 3 million: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/1/27/how-much-does-...

Amazingly, railroads are not much cheaper. The current costs of tracks are estimated at about $2 million per mile, and this is without taking into account all other necessary rail infrastructure (such as sorting yards, maintenance facilities, etc.).

And CO2 emissions are being fixed by switching from gas cars to EVs.


Two other factors that aren't coming up in this analysis are long term maintenance costs (highways in Ontario are constantly being resurfaced) and land use opportunity costs (it's simply not viable to run six lanes of freeway into most CBDs, and doing it with grade separation leads to raised highway eyesores or insanity like Boston's Big Dig).

In any case, as others have pointed out, we don't have to argue hypotheticals here— China, Japan, France, Germany, etc have all shown that frequent-service electrified passenger rail is perfectly possible and an incredible public good.


> And CO2 emissions are being fixed by switching from gas cars to EVs.

Not reall, rail is 9 times more energy efficient than road vechicles. Thats why its cheaper to have a diesel locomotove move freight than to pour the same diesel into trucks.

The whole reason rail exists is thsa its the most efficient form of tranportation on land.


There are a lot of assumptions in the idea that trains are more efficient than road vehicles. Trains tend to carry more heavy bulk goods like coal, if they had more light things the numbers would change. Trains get a lot of efficiency from running very long trains, but that only works out when you have a lot of things going the same way, if you had smaller trains from each warehouse (which now is done by truck) that would reduce th efficiency.

Yes trains have some efficiency advantages, but in similar service the difference is small. You only get those advantages when you use trains for things that trucks cannot do at all.


The very long trains of mostly goods like coal are not an inevitability, though— it's a result of rail companies implementing PSR in response to some pretty specific incentives, see:

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/09/opinion/business-economic...

A number of YouTube video essays argue the sides of this as well, here's one based around Sen. Sanders confronting a rail CEO in the wake of the recent Ohio derailment: https://youtu.be/e4w0q5NzCwA


> Not reall, rail is 9 times more energy efficient than road vechicles.

If you're hauling coal at 35 mph. For people-moving application it's not that more effective: https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint


Your link still gives 5x more efficient.


Look at "medium electric vehicle" - 53g/km versus 41g/km for national rail.


That's comparing new cars (all EVs are fairly new) to the full range of passenger rail, including 40-year-old diesel trains trundling around Wales.

Look at "Eurostar", which is a not-even-that-new high speed electric train: 6g/km. Though the calculation probably also takes account of the number of people on the train, and Eurostar will have better utilisation than average.

(NB coal and ore is moved at about 60mph in the UK, to avoid slowing other trains.)


> Look at "Eurostar", which is a not-even-that-new high speed electric train: 6g/km.

The issue is in the overhead. It's the same for international/domestic flights.

Long-distance trains are more efficient than local trains, because they can be longer (more cars) and don't have to slow down/accelerate all the time.


the problem is that cars have a much worse form of overhead: parking. A rail line that transfers 1M people's commutes per day doesn't use up any space in the city that people commute to. If the same 1M people commute by car, you end up needing roughly 15 square kilometers just for the parking.


The Eurostar train is recovering braking energy to feed back into the grid. Most of the trains in the general figure are older and cannot do this.


You're comparing dollars-per-mile of infrastructure when the more important metric is dollars-per-passenger-mile. You can build 1 mile of freeway for not much more than 1 mile of rail, but that mile of rail can serve considerably more passengers.


That works only in cities (where you can't build freeways anyway), but not for commuter trains.


Why? What makes commuter trains different?


The problem is that 1 mile of rail can move a lot more passengers than 1 mile of road.


What is the route capacity for a lane of freeway vs a rail line? I assumed it’s the opposite, since a freeway has continuous throughout while a rail line is discrete, but I don’t have a good intuition for comparing the scale of each mode.


> What is the route capacity for a lane of freeway vs a rail line? I assumed it’s the opposite, since a freeway has continuous throughout while a rail line is discrete

According to this book (which provides assumptions and calculations supporting) [0], 10:1 in favor of rail, as a conservative estimate.

https://eng.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Industrial_and_System....


> A rush-hour train may consist of 20 cars

The author is smoking some hard crack.


Well, BART has no problem running 9-car trains. I don't know if that's rush hour or not, but I've seen them. If the rest of the math is right, that still gets you 4.5-to-1 in favor of rail.


Europe has plenty of double-story trains. I agree 10 is about the limit otherwise the station sizes aren't people friendly.


The Eurostar trains between London and Brussels/Paris/Amsterdam have 16-18 coaches, although they are noticeably long.

(Other than night trains, I'd expect these to be the longest in Europe.)


BART (mainline) runs a maximum of 10 car trains, with a “crush” (maximum) capacity of 200+ per car.


Have you ever walked past a 20-car train?

It's way too long for commuting. There will be no way to build platforms for it unless you're doing a full green-field build.


How do you calculate capacity? Safety engineers keep yelling that drivers need to keep 3 seconds between cars, but in reality they most drive about .3 seconds from the car in front. There is nearly a 10x difference in freeway capacity between just those two.

Trains tend to maintain longer distances, but if you want to ignore safety we can follow a lot closer.


The big difference is that in a train, you fit 4 people wide and roughly 2-3 ft front to back per person while in cars which have average capacity of ~1.5 per car, you have 1.5 people wide and 50-200 ft front to back. Trains are farther apart than cars, but fit a ton of people per train.


The calculations on that page are not correct. First, the average car occupancy is not 1, it's 1.5 on average. Second, the lane capacity is 1900 cars per hour (that's maximum at around 45 mph, btw). So this works out to 8550 people per hour.

A realistic scenario for commuter trains (that would replace a freeway) is 1 train every 10 minutes, and even this is pretty tough. So you have 6 trains per hour, and to match the throughput you'd need 1425 people per train.

Most train platforms are maxed out at well below 10 cars (Caltrain is 6 cars), 20 car trains are just pure nonsense for commuting. So for 10 car trains it'll be around 150 people per car. Caltrain cars are 130 seats per car ( https://www.greencaltrain.com/2014/05/keeping-up-with-caltra... ), with another 40 standing places.

Basically, a perfectly run commuter train system is _just_ barely comparable with a regular 6-lane freeway.

Sorry train fans, but trains are not that great for commuting.


> Most train platforms are maxed out at well below 10 cars (Caltrain is 6 cars) > a perfectly run commuter train system is _just_ barely comparable with a regular 6-lane freeway

Also look at any major route in Britain, like Manchester to London, no 6-lane highways anywhere in sight.

You are comparing some weak-ass train with a giant highway. It's easy to extend a rail platform to accomodate more train cars - you just need to knock down a few buildings in a local area. Now try widening a 3-lane highway into a 6-lane, that could be hundreds of building and NYMBY's across three cities.


> It's easy to extend a rail platform to accomodate more train cars - you just need to knock down a few buildings in a local area.

Do you know any actual transit systems that run 20-car trains?


Allegedly the Eurostar, which links Paris to London, does:

"Inter-Capital" sets consisting of two power cars and eighteen passenger carriages. These trains are 394 metres (1,293 ft) long and can carry 750 passengers: 206 in first class, 544 in standard class

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurostar#:~:text=These%20train....

I can't find info on the upcoming HS2. However I do testify that extremely long trains are common in Eastern Europe, Russia, India, etc. they might not be high-speed but they do move a lot of people at once.


20 car trains are a distraction here the important correction is 150 passengers per train is way low. 250 is common and going higher (e.g. double decker) is pretty easy if you need to


> Sorry train fans, but trains are not that great for commuting.

Quick comparison: more people (3.6m) go through Shinjuku Station in Tokyo than the daytime population of Manhattan, at 3.1m. Only half of those travel into Manhattan, using all modes of transport. When things get extreme it’s hard to just double the road network and parking into a single location.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjuku_Station


This station is served by 12 lines. So presumably that's 24 tracks.

This means that one track would need to carry a bit more than 150000 people a day on average. A 6-lane freeway can carry around 100000 people a day.

As a sanity check, the infamous Katy Freeway carries 350000 cars a day, for about 600000 people. It's 14 main travel lanes wide.

So yep, trains are not that efficient compared to freeways.


So you'd need 6 of those highways converging on the middle of a city to compare to Tokyo's single train station. To make it really fun to solve, no rational city would allow that disastrous use of above-ground land, the parking for another 2m cars would be an engineering feat of note and you're dragging millions of tons of steel around for no reason. We haven't begun on emissions or need for fuel stops for those 2m cars.

Oh, and that's not the entirety of the Tokyo metro population, which is ~37m. The entire of Texas is ~29m-ish and that's spread out so far and wide they can afford to fuck around with 14 lane highways. The scale and solution are incomparable.


that's not 24 tracks. you need more tracks at the station since the trains are stopped, but you can probably do that with 4 to 6 tracks for the portions where the trains are up to speed.


BART has a capacity of 200 passengers per car in their legacy fleet, 241-256 for their new fleet, and regularly has 10 cars per train during peak hours [1] and travels 80mph.

[1] https://wbcapp.oaklandnet.com/cs/groups/public/documents/pro...


Correction, trains specifically. Subways and light rail are immensely higher ROI (as in, benefit vs cost) within a city since it effectively forces people close together, while a 6-lane-on-each-side highway isn't economically feasible for all of the high-traffic areas.


But it does very well at medium distances while you find all over.


> it does very well at medium distances

Depending on density. I'd wager the Atlanta metropolitan area is just about crossing that threshold, i.e. they should built it now.


Atlanta does have trains, and in fact has the 8th most annual riders of any US city, right behind the Bay Area.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MARTA_rail


91,000 daily riders according to that link

2,000,000 daily vehicles on this Atlanta transit system

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_285_(Georgia)


I guess MARTA is between municipal and regional rail, sort of like BART. I meant for connecting the Atlanta metropolitan area to its region, not intraconnecting.


Roughly speaking the density of the US east of the Mississipi and the far west coast is dense enough. The rocky mountains and Alaska really bring our average density down.


It's unfortunate that passenger rail has deteriorated so much in the USA.

The city of Atlanta takes its name from the Atlantic railroad!


In like 1/3rd or less of the land mass of the us yes.


I grew up near one of those major lines, the one that goes along 515. We used to try to get a train to flatten a penny for us or race it on our fourwheelers. Never got a flattened penny though. lol


Gotta tape the coin to the track so it doesn't rattle off before the train gets to it, or use chewing gum.


I was around 5 years old so my logic was pretty simple. I think I tried a heavy rock lol


I used to get lots of flattened pennies. The trains throw them so you have to spend a lot of time searching the gravel around the tracks. Be sure to watch for other trains so you don't get hit.


There's a bunch of new plants and factories going up in Georgia (maybe there's a comprehensive list somewhere). Definitely bodes well for Georgia's future in terms of economics.


Yeah, the news is pretty non-stop of new things opening up. Atlanta trying to become the new hollywood I think kickstarted all this at least in my head timeline but I'm sure some hardworking business owners and politicians really just focused on bringing in new work.


I think it goes a lot further back, one semi-serious data point: the "Chamber of commerce runs Atlanta" meme was satirized by the TV show Futurama in the year 2000:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deep_South_(Futurama)

https://youtu.be/LeYihjMo0Bk


The moment I read this headline I went straight to comments to find the 20 people decisively declaring it completely useless. Classic HN


[flagged]


Why should anyone spend their time trying to persuade a 20 day old account on here?


[flagged]


How about instead of relying on the good old "go do your own research" you provide some of those numbers you undoubtedly looked up which you then found convincing enough to be worth a comment on HN?


There are other companies working on these processes.

US increases EV battery recycling capacity with new AL facility processing up to 10K tonnes annually https://electrek.co/2022/10/14/us-increases-ev-battery-recyc...

Redwood Materials recovers ~95% of metals from EOL battery packs https://www.teslarati.com/redwood-materials-metal-recovery-e...


given the u. s. goals of evs and energy storage recycling batteries domestically instead of shipping the metals off to cheaper destinations is going to become a matter of national security as we won’t produce enough metals on our own


The infrastructure bill had funding for domestic extraction and processing of critical minerals. Also US has been encouraging Canada to do the same including providing some grants to Canadian companies to get started. Below is the list of minerals.

https://www.usgs.gov/news/national-news-release/us-geologica...


Where the heck are they going to find feedstock? Renault found that the batteries don't wear out, they just keep running, going on 10 years.


I'm guessing at least some consumer batteries (i.e. laptop/phone/ebike/etc) can also be recycled at the same facilities; These are often of similar chemistry but may have lower lifespans and there would be no reason the facility could not process them. [0]

[0] - A good example would be 18650 batteries; these are used by Tesla but are found in lots of other things.


I suspect, eventually mostly insurance writeoffs, wrecks etc.


I guess the Nissan Leaf might single handedly provide for enough initial feedstock, considering how quickly their batteries degrade. Just awful battery management from Nissan on that car.


Isn’t recycling a myth? I have seen the production of EV batteries. Layered with tons of glue and components to manage the heat.

In other words, it’s not just lithium in those batteries. Got to process it, make sure it’s discharged properly, remove non-recyclable materials, then you can start the recycling of the raw materials.

Whether this process is more cost prohibitive vs using new materials is what I want to know.

As we all know, the O&G industry introduced a petroleum byproduct known as plastic and flooded the market with it. Big promises were made about their “infinite recycle” potential. Not to mention a shit ton of recycling facilities built to process it.

Fast forward to today, plastic trash has invaded our entire food chain, polluted the ground and oceans, ruining water ecosystems. Most of the recycling facilities that were built in the 80s and 90s are defunct with responsibility pushed to local municipalities to process.

Seems like we are repeating history


How many EV batteries are decommissioned each year, i.e., could be recycled? This company can handle 70,000 per year according to the article, but what is that number out of?

Side note about consumer lithium batteries: The nearest lithium recycling near me is 40 miles away, and it costs $$ to drop of your stuff. I can afford that, but I doubt most Americans properly dispose of their batteries. Heck, I have a neighbor who burns his trash near the road and one time saw him burning a few car batteries in the pile.


Not many. Not including a few larger recalls (Hyundai Kona for example), the battery replacement percentage for EVs is under 5%. The rest are still running on the original battery.[0]

This is the biggest limit for re-using and recycling EV batteries, the damn things just won't die.

[0] https://www.businessinsider.com/electric-car-battery-models-...


Is that because the average age of battery is still young? Haven’t EVs exploded in last 5 years? It’ll take time for replacements to be a significant number relative to EV number.


it almost feels like old appliances, back when product was new and every little part was slightly over engineered resulting in those whirlpool washing machines lasting several decades


That's a very optimistic take. Old appliances cost 10x as much as modern ones (inflation adjusted). If we can chop the price on batteries 10x, that would be awesome.


From the article, they actually get most of their waste material from battery factories, which is interesting.

> "That’s not to say there are enough old batteries coming in to fill the factory. Currently, 80 to 90 percent of what’s going into Ascend’s Covington facility is scrap materials from battery factories, including SK Battery America’s plant in Commerce, Georgia."

Eventually we'll have a lot more end-of-life batteries, but for now most of the EV battery packs that have ever been made are still in the middle of their respective bathtub curves.


Not a lot yet. Most of the batteries produced are still being used. A decade ago there barely were any EVs on the road. Production volumes at Tesla were in the thousands per year, not per week. Most of those cars are still driving fine. And by now, most manufacturers give eight year warranties on their batteries and drive trains. Meaning, they don't expect them to start failing until long after that date.

You are thinking about this wrong. The value of the lithium inside those cars is higher than a lot of second hand ICE cars. There can be tens of kilos of lithium in a typical EV. The price of lithium is about 30-40$/kilo currently. That could come down. But it's way more valuable than iron, lead, aluminium, etc.


Is this different from how they recycle EV batteries in Europe?


A lot of old ev batteries are snatched up by people who want to use them in whole-house battery systems.

I wonder if recycling of ev batteries might be premature for some or many cells?


A lot? I bet the number of EV battery packs that have been turned into whole-house batteries by individual homeowners is in the single digits and might be zero.


5 seconds later, here is the first result I found: https://diysolarforum.com/threads/tesla-model-3-full-battery...

I've also seen folks on the RV forum using modules (though usually just one, not an entire pack).


I think what happens is that a module goes bad, not the whole pack. Also, people don't need 400+ volts and/or $10k of batteries for their house, they need something for the charging system which is typically 12/24/48v


A good BMS can mitigate the loss from individual cells going bad.

$10K is on the low side for most people forking out money for powerwall-size systems. The reason some people use old EV batteries is because they're cheaper than buying a bank of LFPs, even when you buy cells in bulk and assemble the batteries yourself. Before the pandemic caused the world to go crazy, people were buying used Chevy Bolts because it was cheaper to buy the car, park it forever, and tap into the battery system than it was to buy batteries by themselves (and the Bolt has a really simple HV battery setup that's easy for a competent DIYer to work with).


I wonder how they are able to shred batteries safely, but we hear that an accident that leads to pack deformation can easily start a massive fire.


Probably they've discharged the batteries completely first.


Somehow I thought there was still risk even if the battery is discharged.. as in a discharged battery still has chemicals that could go crazy if mixed suddenly. But you must be right. Interesting


all this hassle for EVs instead of building more railways and end the R1 zoning...


Pretty pathetic "recycling": 1. 80-90% of input is not even batteries, it's scrap from woefully inefficient and low yield battery cell manufacturing 2. "Recycling" consists of mechanical shredding to combine all of the copper, aluminum, steel, cathode materials, anode materials 3. A single extraction process pulls out lithium carbonate, the rest is saved for the future as "black mass" for as yet nonexistent processes to pull out the valuable cobalt, nickel, manganese, phosphorus, graphite.

The approach taken is practical, but kind of stupid. We want to physically separate these materials, so let's grind them into a well mixed aqueous slurry, then let the process chemists loose to solve it with science.

Particulate contamination of new or recycled battery materials with iron particles is a particular concern. Grinding the steel battery casings will not help.

The failure isn't with the battery recyclers, we shouldn't blame them. The issue is that consumers pay $0.05 per cell to recycle cells which at the moment are not recyclable, and we all see it as OK. I got my Tesla, ... you. So, as a result, there is zero incentive to consider the full product life cycle when designing cells.


Input volume is low because vehicle batteries last forever. Importantly, we can ramp on QA rejects, salavaged vehicles, etc before there are tens of millions of EVs out there (not to mention stationary storage that will eventually EOL) needing waste management. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

https://cleantechnica.com/2022/09/21/surprise-nissan-leaf-ba...

Not super familiar with Ascend ground truth, but very familiar with Redwood Materials state of the art.


Yes, vehicle batteries and stationary storage are used in much more "forgiving" environments than laptops and power tools, when it comes to cell life. Lower power draw, better battery management systems, less temperature fluctuation, less physical impact.

Battery production is still massively wasteful in terms of partially finished or finished products that need to be scrapped. The reason is that battery quality is critical at every level. One tiny piece of iron embedded in one battery out of a million can mean a catastrophic fire and tens of millions in damages. If there is a systemic defect that manifests during cell testing and is caught, the whole production batch should be scrapped. Most of this scrap happens before the batteries are shipped, and you never see it, except in this too-honest article. You see how this plays out in car fires, resulting from battery defects, resulting in large recalls.

Run into defects in semiconductor manufacturing, and scrap cost is lower, and you don't have an obvious and direct link between the defects and catastrophic failure modes.

Keeping iron particles and manufacturing defects out of batteries isn't a "solvable" problem. You try to minimize it and catch it. Without technical breakthroughs and using existing technologies, the higher the batteries' performance, the less the margin for error.

We don't have a good baseline cultural understanding for what lithium-ion batteries are. In general, household batteries, AAs, AAAs, car batteries use a water-based electrolyte. They do not catch fire. Lithium-ion batteries use an organic solvent as electrolyte and when punctured, dropped, or just cycling in everyday use if defective, turn into red-hot self-propelled blowtorches.


Input volume is low because vehicle batteries last forever.

I am not sure of your meaning. Because, taken literally, our 2011 Nissan Leaf would like a word with you.


> Many will be amazed to learn that Nic Thomas, Nissan’s marketing director for the UK, told Forbes recently, “Almost all of the [EV] batteries we’ve ever made are still in cars, and we’ve been selling electric cars for 12 years. We haven’t got a great big stock of batteries that we can convert into something else,” he added. “It’s the complete opposite of what people feared when we first launched EVs — that the batteries would only last a short time.”

> In fact, many EV batteries may outlast the vehicles they are installed in, then enjoy a second life in a stationary storage application before finally being recycled, according to EVANNEX. “At the end of the vehicle’s life — 15 or 20 years down the road — you take the battery out of the car and it’s still healthy with perhaps 60 or 70% of usable charge,” Thomas said.

> “It’s more sustainable to take the battery pack out of the car after 20 years, recycle the car, and reuse the battery. By far the easiest thing to do is take the complete battery out of the vehicle, put it in a shipping container in a rack, and plug that into a solar farm.”

Can’t speak to a Leaf, but I have fast DC charged my 2018 Model S almost exclusively over the last 100k miles and its pack has degraded only 6%.


"Almost all of the [EV] batteries we’ve ever made are still in cars."

That's because replacing the battery in a 2011 Nissan Leaf will likely "total" the car (in that, the replacement cost would be more than the car is worth). It's the boat we're in now. Five, six, eight grand to replace the battery for a car that even dealers are only asking $7K for. Where are the cheap replacement batteries that we were promised when we bought the car? My guess is, "we'd rather place those batteries in $70K cars, so those are the customers you're competing with for battery supply." So that's how we're going to replace the battery: with a new Hyundai IONIQ 5.

In fact, many EV batteries may outlast the vehicles they are installed in, then enjoy a second life in a stationary storage application before finally being recycled, according to EVANNEX.

"May", or may not. We don't know, because despite the chatter, I'm not seeing this secondary car battery use. Probably because no one replaces the batteries, because...it's not worth it.

Can’t speak to a Leaf, but I have fast DC charged my 2018 Model S...

Your Tesla also has the advantage of seven years of battery advancement over our Leaf, which has degraded 25%. And the Leaf battery thermal management is non-existent. OTOH, as my wife and I push up against retirement age, with a liquid-cooled battery pack and the 12 years of learning about battery management, I'm assuming that the battery in the new Ioniq 5 coming this week will outlive us.


Yeah the Leaf ~2011 is infamous as an earlier "bad" battery design so I wouldn't extrapolate too much from it. The reality is also that as battery capacity increases, people simply won't notice 10-15% degradation of the pack because their commute is so much shorter than the vehicule's range.


And I'm not really extrapolating too much from it, as I expect our soon-to-be-in-the-driveway Ioniq 5 to perform much better (as in, outlives me). The Leaf was the first mass-market electric car in, what, 100 years? Yeah, we expected some early-adopter teething pains (including a short-lived battery), and we have no complaints with the OG Leaf, enough so that we swore off ICE vehicles years ago and await our 2nd electric car.

But at the same time, it's a counter to Nissan marketing guy trying to mansplain to me about their battery lifecycle. I own one of your batteries, Marketing Guy, and I'm detecting slight hints of marketing bullshit.


> That's because replacing the battery in a 2011 Nissan Leaf will likely "total" the car (in that, the replacement cost would be more than the car is worth).

Yeah, well, totalling shouldn't work like that. A car with a new battery should be worth several thousand more, and the totalling calculation for replacing the battery should be based on the post-work value, not the pre-work value.


The leaf is notorious for fast degradation in hot climates due to a poor cooling system. The model S, by 2018 anyway, sets the bar for both thermal and charging management. People outside of those climates mostly think about cold being a temporary range reducer, but if 40c is a normal or even cool summer day where you live, many EVs are simply off the table due to battery life concerns. The population of places with that sort of climate is growing faster than the others, so it really is worth addressing.


> many EVs are simply off the table due to battery life concerns

What EVs would be off the table? The Leaf is notably bad in this regard, as you mention, because the battery is passively cooled. However, all the other EVs I'm aware of are actively cooled and should be fine in hot temps.

It's an earnest question—I don't know anything except as a consumer who's shopped around for an EV, and as a resident of a hot climate I'd be interested in knowing what I need to look out for.


The spot checks I've done mostly show everything but nissan and gm having active cooling beyond a fan. But even within liquid cooling not all use the ac to keep the pack below ambient temp nwhen it gets too hot. I think kia and tesla are the only two I decided I was sure would be ok.


Is there a consumer market yet for buying/selling old EV batteries for stationary storage? Some quick googling isn't turning anything up.


Batteryhookup and Jag35 are hobbyist-friendly places dealing in such things. Safety or documentation are very much YOYOMF.


I can vouch for battery hookup, they even sell new/never used overstock sometimes. Pretty good way to build your own battery back up system, which has helped me a lot when we lost power here in quebec for 4 days last week.


Probably not at scale due to all the different form factors. There are plenty of hobbyists doing that, however.


You can buy old Tesla modules (typically from wrecked cars) on eBay. Once in a while I see people on the RV forums use them instead of LFP, though honestly I'd much rather have LFP for RV or home energy storage than regular lithium ion.


> Because, taken literally, our 2011 Nissan Leaf would like a word with you.

2011 was a particularly bad year for the Leaf. And they were not great (battery life-wise) before 2015 ('lizard pack').

The newer ones are faring much better. Sure, this is of no consolation for your Leaf, but I'd keep an eye for a battery pack from a Leaf that's totaled for other reasons (minor accident causing airbag deployment, for example). You can even add a larger battery than the one your model came with.


Chevy Volt batteries are holding up great even in 2012 models. There are definitely people experiencing failures of a cell leading to bricking the car, or even a temp sensor failure in the pack leading to the vehicle bricking itself, but for 95%+ of people it seems like a decade old battery is doing great. I've got 170k miles on my decade old Volt and everything seems good as new for now.


Nissan for whatever reason never chose to do (and still doesn't do in 2023) active battery thermal management that every other EV manufacturer does - I have a Ford Focus EV (2017) and despite being a complete econobox compliance vehicle (which I still love) it actively manages battery heat.

Luckily Leafs are a minority of all EVs so the point still stands - EV batteries will likely outlive the car.


My 2014 Nissan Leaf still had great battery life when we finally traded it in last year.

Often times a Leaf's entire pack can substantially recover capacity by replacing a single problematic cell.


I'm guessing the battery in your Nissan Leaf only has maybe 60% of its capacity when new? That's not so bad that a battery would be deemed unusable. If you didn't want that battery, that battery probably would not end up in a recycling site but reused in other low energy-density use cases.


I figure that over 10 years later, the fact that the only example that consistently comes up is the Nissan Leaf means we've made excellent progress on EV batteries. It's the exception proving the rule.


OG leaf battery design was legitimately flawed.

I had one for a while and watched the range drop from 50-40 “miles” (half that really) over less than 10k miles of usage before I sold it.


> stationary storage that will eventually EOL

I suspect stationary storage will never EOL. Even after tens of thousands of recharge cycles, the battery can still store some energy, perhaps just 10% of the design capacity, but thats still worth something so it's still worth running.

The only time it is worth throwing out is if the land is valuable and you need it for another project.

This does depend on there not being much 'parasitic load' - ie. fans and pumps which run 24x7 which cost money to run even when they aren't really needed when the battery capacity and charge/discharge speed is really low.


Eh not sure about this one.

With SoH decreasing the internal resistance increases and the battery inherently becomes a fire hazard. At some point the energy required for cooling will not be justifiable and the battery will have to be decommissioned.


As internal resistance rises, you just need to charge slower...

A battery that normally takes an hour to charge can charge 10x slower and take 10 hours to charge, and still be providing some useful value. (nearly everywhere will have a day/night power price discrepancy, as well as a weekday vs weekend discrepancy, and a hot/cold weather discrepancy - so there are lots of timescales over which money can be made)


I think the 'grind it up and use chemistry to extract the valuable bits' is the future of recycling.

The reality is that lifespans of products is so long (eg. 30+ years) that no recycling process wants to be built to fit standard mechanical designs from 30 years ago... and 20 years ago... and 10 years ago... Multiply by the number of different designs from different companies and different countries (even with regulation, it is unlikely we would get one global mechanically recyclable design).

If process chemists can't extract everything, then you plasma-ionize what's left and now you just have plain old elements to deal with.


Chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper and zinc are elements # 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. The processes to separate them are currently resource-intensive and expensive. They need to be separated by conventional smelting and refining processes or hydro metallurgical processes, or some combination. These processes need to do a great job of purification for the materials to be battery grade.

Plasma ionization, can it be cheap and scalable?


> Plasma ionization, can it be cheap and scalable?

It doesn't need to be awfully cheap - those elements (except iron) are pretty valuable per kg, so they can pay for a pretty expensive process while still being cheaper than getting new stuff out of the ground.


steel recycling has the same concern.

Sure, you can rip apart a building and say "ooh, thats a nice steel beam - we could reuse that for another building, or cut it into sheets to roll flat into something else"... But it is cheaper and easier just to chuck it into a furnace and melt it down and start from scratch.


This is the correct way of thinking, and is widely applicable to many commonly recycled materials. Wood, aluminum, steel, and some plastics can be efficiently processed in this way.

Battery materials and applications are different. They cannot be cheaply and easily melted down and re-used. The main constituents are all very similar and difficult to separate, and need to be separated extremely well in order to be used in battery applications.

The lithium carbonate extraction is very telling. Lithium is #3 in the periodic table. The remaining elements that we would want to extract occupy every number from #24 through #30. The reason that they are extracting cheap lithium and none of the heavy, expensive elements, is that more process development needs to be done.

In light of the above, creating a facility to grind up batteries does not represent much progress towards the core problem, and is not a particularly large step in the right direction. It would be like making a facility to grind up plastic, without having a process in place to recycle the plastic. It's great, but you need more, much more.


But that's not the same, the above process would be like melting the steel and glass and concrete from the building and hope future chemistry allows us to separate them


Current chemistry allows us to do that just fine. Glass melts at a much lower temperature and is much less dense than steel. Concrete is not as dense as steel, but melts at a much higher temperature. So, if you heat up the whole mixture to steel melting temperatures, the glass and steel will melt and can be poured off, while the concrete will stay solid. Then the molten mixture of steel and glass will naturally separate because the steel part is so much heavier than the glass part and they don't naturally mix all that well.

(Fun fact, glass pane manufacturing is often done by floating the molten glass on a bath of molten metal so that the surface tension will make it flat. AFAIK they don't usually use molten steel as the metal though.)


But if you can pull out the steel beams without all the concrete, melting it will be a lot cheaper.

Imagine grinding up a bridge or tunnel and trying melt all the steel out of the concrete.

That sounds expensive.


It does "sound" expensive, but so does separating out all the steel beams from the concrete of a tunnel. That kind of thing is pretty labor intensive and people cost a lot of money. If you have a big enough grinding machine, it may well be cheaper overall if it only needs a single operator.


I'm not a chemist, but this is something we're already very good at, and have been for quite some time. Silicon oxides occur very commonly in iron ores, and are a major component of slag.


> I think the 'grind it up and use chemistry to extract the valuable bits' is the future of recycling. […] If process chemists can't extract everything, then you plasma-ionize what's left and now you just have plain old elements to deal with.

So high temperature applications which remove strong bonds and create programmable ions can lead to atomic elements?


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

You seem upset that "reuse" is a different word than "recycle".


We may or may not develop processes to efficiently recycle the "black mass". For now, these processes do not exist.

Battery recycling may go in a different direction than it's currently heading. We may decide to focus on separating out the most valuable of these elements, or only elements from certain battery chemistries. We may even decide that it's not feasible to chemically separate ground battery materials containing iron, chromium, or other contaminants.

In the short term, re-using lithium-ion cells is not particularly feasible due to issues with cell safety and handling. In my mind, re-use doesn't enter into the conversation. If cells are being decommissioned, they would ideally be at or near the end of their useful lives anyways. For instance, if a vehicle was in a car accident, you would never re-use the cells, due to concerns about acceleration damage.


Re-use is happening all over. Used Nissan Leaf cells sell for almost new prices. I wish it wasn't true because I'd like a few packs myself.


Recycling causes harm for the environment. It’s not a viable solution in the middle terms.


You seem to be adding some details not in the article. Are you familiar with them?

> Currently, Ascend sells most of these substances to the market;

I took that line to mean they sell the recycled materials. You seem to think they are storing them as a combined goop.


I do have a little familiarity with lithium-ion technologies, but no direct insight into battery recycling. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

I absolutely do think that "recycled" battery materials are being stored as combined goop or "black mass"! For the following reasons: 1. I'm not aware of a commodity spot price for battery sludge/powder 2. I'm not aware of any cell manufacturer using recycled materials in their cathode materials 3. I'm not aware of any cell manufacturer or recycler processing recycled battery sludge/powder and re-selling cathode materials made from recycled materials 4. I am well aware of the large technical and cost barrier to processing and separating this "black mass": The chemical elements occupy all of the positions from #24-#30 in the periodic table, and existing processes to separate the elements are expensive and resource-intensive.

What I don't have insight into is: who is buying recycled battery material mixtures? If they are available cheaply, we could speculate on them and hold them, assuming that refining processes will grow cheaper over time, and that the value of the recycled material mixtures will increase.


Their website seems to be claiming they have some secret sauce:

> Our advantage starts with a remarkable innovation: Other processes leach metals out of spent battery materials, but our patented Hydro-to-Cathode direct precursor synthesis process leaches out impurities, keeping the valuable metals in solution and eliminating multiple steps in the recycling flow.


I think this is the state of the art at scale currently.

I bet if you can execute better they would love to hire you! ;)


Yes, I think you're right that this is the state of the art at scale.

I wish the article went into a little more detail on the extent of technical achievement that was reached in commissioning this facility. Never mind the core process, can only imagine the scale of the fire suppression system, dust and fume management, etc. It really is impressive. They should publish a video tour.

I think that this recycling facility occupies a supply chain niche in a larger system: Dispose of old battery cells and preserve the rest of the materials as concentrated ores. The existing cells cannot be safely warehoused as cells, due to fire risk. The concentrated ores can be stored cheaply and safely and will maintain a stable or increasing indexed commodity value, proportionate to improvements in refining processes.

I just think that getting the cell cores out intact and separate from the steel casings would be a great start for the subsequent materials separation processes. Imagine if the cathode and anode foils could be further separated at the time of cell disassembly, and you would have a few material streams that would be simpler to process downstream: steel casings contaminated with powder and maybe a little aluminum and copper, cathode foils with the bulk of the cathode powders and close to zero iron, anode foils with the bulk of the anode powders and close to zero iron, and mixed powder flakes with close to zero iron.

I guess it's about where you move cost and complexity. I view the whole cell grinding as moving complexity downstream. Yes, it may end up being the right thing to do, but that will depend on future technological developments in metal refining, hydrometallurgical separation, and other techniques.


How do you think they get it out of the ground with all the other contaminants? I'm making an educated guess that a recycling business has figured out how to make it economical at scale.


For each element, I believe there is a combination of electrolysis, electrowinning, leaching and other hydrometallurgical and refining processes that is used to refine from ore into a pure state.

In the article, lithium is extracted from the recycled cell materials. Relatively cheap lithium can be extracted because it occupies position #3 in the periodic table and has very different chemical properties than most of the other elements. According to the article, the expensive elements, occupying positions #24 through #30 in the periodic table, are left together in the black mass and re-sold.

Separating elements #24 through #30 is not yet easy and economical. The central challenges are: A. The elements are all adjacent to one another in the periodic table B. The finished outputs must be extremely pure in order to be suitable for use in battery materials C. Centuries of advancement in mining, metallurgical and process research and development focuses (mostly) on how to get (mostly) pure elements from ores

That's not to say we won't get there. I just think that opening a cell grinding and breakdown facility isn't a particularly large step in the right direction. I actually think it may be a step in the wrong direction, and that cell processing facilities should perhaps be focusing on complexity at the cell disassembly level, processing individual cells to mechanically separate elements, given that cells enter recycling facilities as attached/assembled but relatively nicely separated casings, cathode and anode foils, and cathode and anode powders.

If there are large subsequent advancements in chemical refining processes for separating elements #24 through #30, my above assessments will be proven wrong.




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