Behind-the-scenes
Behind-the-scenes

Lithium-Ion batteries - why we must re-use and recycle

by Harry Maxwell, on May 11, 2021

5 MIN READ

Lithium-Ion batteries are the standard in the electronics industry. Today, they are the most environmentally-friendly battery solution on the market - as long as they are re-used before being recycled properly.

For skeptics, the jury is still out on whether micromobility companies are making a net positive environmental impact. The truth is that the industry is affecting tangible positive change. For example, 66g of CO2 is saved for every kilometer travelled on a Zoov.

Micromobility companies are becoming increasingly more environmentally conscious and that is very positive - but one subject remains controversial.

Batteries.

The biggest concern surrounds battery production, usage, charging and recycling. It’s important that, as an industry, we become more transparent about the environmental impact of our batteries so that we can continue to develop innovative solutions to reduce waste and, subsequently, reduce our carbon emissions.

This article will discuss:

  1. Why Lithium-Ion batteries are used in micromobility
  2. Whether Lithium-Ion batteries can be recycled
  3. Re-use before recycling
  4. How to give batteries a second life
  5. How Zoov recycles Lithium-Ion batteries

Why Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries are used in micromobility

Without going into the history of the Lithium-Ion battery, they power everything from our smartphones to electric vehicles (EVs).

They are used in EVs for two reasons:

1) High energy density: Lithium-Ion batteries can store 150 watt-hours (WH) of energy per kilogram (kg), compared to nickel-metal hydride batteries at 60-70WH/kg and lead acid ones at 25WH/kg.

2) Low discharge rate: Lithium-Ion batteries lose 5% of their charge in a month compared to nickel-cadmium (NiMH) batteries which lose 20% in a month.

Simply put, they are used in EVs because they can hold more energy for longer and are lighter - thus increasing energy efficiency and reducing the need for battery swapping.

Simply put, they are used in EVs because they need to be recharged less often and they retain energy the best, thus producing less waste.

Despite being 40% more expensive than other battery types, micromobility companies use them because they are a more sustainable choice.

Can Lithium-Ion batteries be recycled?

Sort of.

Today, only 50% of a Lithium-Ion battery can be recycled; the rest of the battery’s waste must be stored so as to not release chemicals into the environment. McKinsey, however, predicts an increase on this figure as the EV market continues to grow.

“Li-Ion battery recycling is currently in its infancy”

McKinsey

Are they being recycled?

EY reports 70% recycling rate for Li-Ion batteries in micromobility. To put this into context, just 2% of Australia’s 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion waste is recycled. There is a worldwide problem with recycling old batteries and, although our industry is performing well, there is always room for improvement.

We must do more.

Re-using before recycling

All batteries should be recycled to avoid harmful pollution, but the true problem is recycling them when they still have significant life left in them.

It takes 1,900 tonnes of water to mine one tonne of lithium. Batteries that contain this precious metal are said to be ‘exhausted’ when they retain 60-80% of their initial capacity. Far too functional to be half recycled! If we continue to recycle un-exhausted batteries, their life-cycle value is significantly reduced and could, theoretically, create more carbon emissions than they prevent.

This is why we must make every cell in each battery count. Recycling is the end game, but re-using is equally critical.

In the waste management hierarchy, re-use is considered preferable to recycling.


How to give batteries a second life

One potential second life for them is in large grid-scale storage, which would reduce fossil fuel usage. Unfortunately, a study found that when a lot of battery storage is added to the grid, there are steeply diminishing returns.

Another company, Gouach, are building a fully repairable battery. A patented solder-less design allows them to repair the electronics and change the cells in less than 5 minutes, reducing CO2 footprints by 50%.

Whilst we wait for these technologies to arrive, we must keep looking for innovative ways to repurpose Li-Ion batteries.

At Zoov, we are committed to reducing the life-cycle impact of our solutions and contributing to a more sustainable brand of micromobility. When batteries are no longer fit for the streets (when they reach 80% capacity), we give them a second life in two ways.

In our workshops

When we are testing our electric bikes we use old batteries. They are still perfectly functional, they just have less capacity than a new battery. They also power the Zoov bikes that employees use to get to and from the office.

As a source of energy in our smart stations

This is an innovation we are particularly proud of!
Like any other station, our smart stations can be powered by the grid. Unlike other stations, however, we can also power our stations through a simple plug - or through old batteries.

Although the Zoov smart station is ultra-compact, there’s just enough room for a rack of 12 used batteries to fit in and charge a row of electric bikes.

How Zoov recycles Li-Ion batteries

Once we’ve squeezed the last energy out of them, we turn to recycling through our partners, Screlec. We take care of their ‘end of life storage’ in safe containers (pictured below) before sending them to be recycled.

How we safely store our used batteries before recycling them.


We can take care of any partner’s batteries directly if they are based in France. They can either send them to us for safe storage or, if they have a large operation, we can arrange for storage drums to be sent to their warehouse for our partner to pick up (free of charge!). For international partners, we have an international recycling partner (contact us for details).  

This means that we are:

  • In agreement with the European and French regulations (article R.543-130 of the environmental code) and for Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) (article R.543-172).
  • Meet our Extended Producer Responsibilities (REP, in French).

As an added bonus - our electric bike has a 100% recyclable aluminium frame and fork. In fact, 95% of our bikes are recyclable - for which we turn to our other partner, Ecologic.

We are proud to have a certified collection or recycling channel in place for every single part of our electric bike.

Amira Haberah, Co-founder of Zoov

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The low-down

  • Many micromobility companies are making a net positive impact.
  • Lithium batteries can be recycled, but we must do more to make sure that all batteries are recycled properly.
  • Most importantly, we must re-use or repurpose Li-Ion batteries before even considering recycling them.
  • Re-using alleviates stress on supply, reduces demand and reduces waste. It is a necessity.