Electric Car Batteries: What They're Made Of, What Happens to Them, and More

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

Apr. 27 2021, Published 1:52 p.m. ET

EV Car Batteries
Source: Getty Images

Although the first modern-day electric car was created back in the '90s, many still have questions regarding clean-powered vehicles, almost 30 years later — specifically in relation to EV batteries. Traditional gas-powered cars run on gas and lead-acid batteries, whereas EVs run on electricity and a different type battery that eventually dies after a certain number of years. But what are EV batteries made of, and what happens to them when they're no longer usable?

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Keep reading for everything you need to know regarding electric vehicle batteries — this may be a useful reference for when your state's government (hopefully) bans the production of gas-powered cars in the foreseeable future.

what are electric car batteries made of
Source: Getty Images
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What is an electric car battery made of?

There are many similarities between traditional gas-powered cars and electric cars in terms of how they operate. But, they run on vastly different types of energy (nonrenewable gas versus renewable electric energy), and they're powered by different types of batteries. As previously mentioned, gas-powered cars generally run on lead-acid batteries, while most new electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries, according to Motor Biscuit, which will live for about 200,000 miles or around 17 years.

Similar to the batteries that power your laptops and cell phones, lithium-ion batteries are found beneath the interior carriage, and they're composed of hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells, according to BBC News. Electric car batteries are larger than that of a gas powered car, they're quite heavy, and if dismantled or removed improperly, they can unfortunately explode or ignite. 

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So, handling them safely and efficiently is absolutely crucial — but what happens to electric car batteries at the end of their life cycles? Are electric car batteries recyclable like lead-acid batteries are? Watch the video below for more on the history and composition of EV batteries, and then stay tuned for more on how to handle a dead EV battery.

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What happens to electric car batteries after they're no longer usable? Are they recyclable?

As per How Stuff Works, electric car and hybrid car batteries are recyclable. When a lithium-ion batteries exceed their lifespans, they still have 80 percent of charge left, and can be reused at solar or wind farms to store surplus power. Recycling centers that can properly take care of these massive batteries are still in development, especially in relation to the growing EV market, but major lead-acid battery recyclers like Toxco are opening lithium-ion recycling plants nationwide.

Home Depot also has a nonprofit car battery recycle option — make sure to check that your local store accepts them, and also find a safe way to remove your battery. You can also contact your local scrap yard, to see if they will pay for electric car batteries. Battery Recyclers of America will also pay per pound based on the materials they're looking for — you may want to call around first, however, to get the best price.

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Once they make their way to a recycling plant, lithium-ion batteries are pulverized. If they're totally dead, they're shredded and the metal components are divided and sorted. If they still can hold a charge, on the other hand, they're frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed, before the metals are sorted for reuse.

Source: Getty Images

EV retailers need to do everything they can to make sure electric batteries aren't simply being dumped in landfill trash — according to BBC News, with a growing EV market, this could be a serious problem. Different EV companies like Tesla and Volvo are aiming to address these issues from the beginning of the process, but once that's fully figured out, though, EVs are going be a crucial solution to climate change.

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