How can we make electric mobility more sustainable? Four circular business model

The electric mobility revolution needs its own ‘fuel’ – millions of batteries made up of tonnes of scarce raw materials. Fortunately, unlike oil, this fuel can be kept in the loop. In this article, Bax & Company Innovation Consultant Piotr Grudzień explores several examples of how innovative battery companies create value from circular practices, based on first-hand insights from the partners of the BatteReverse project.
 

In 2030 alone, Europe will face the task of producing over nine million electric vehicles, which will require batteries with approximately one million tonnes of critical raw materials such as cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium. These rare metals, predominantly sourced and processed outside of Europe, pose a major supply chain challenge for the automotive industry, as is the efficient and safe treatment of generated battery waste. It’s estimated that more than 300,000 tonnes of batteries will have to be collected and recycled in 2030, but how can this be done efficiently and safely? 

The BatteReverse project, an EU-funded initiative launched in 2023, is dedicated to improving the reverse logistics of EV batteries through developing new technologies, optimising existing processes, and setting up innovative collaborations. As part of the project, Bax & Company has mapped more than 150 key companies in Europe and analysed over 20 stakeholder types, as depicted in the image below.

 

Given that reverse logistics have not yet been standardised, the processes and roles within companies continue to evolve. This dynamic environment presents opportunities for established players like OEMs and recyclers, as well as new market entrants, including startups in data management or second-life battery products. The following four business cases present examples of how these key stakeholders are collaborating with other companies to improve battery circularity, whilst reducing costs and generating profits.
 

No battery should be wasted – sourcing batteries for second-life at Škoda Auto

The introductory visual illustrates that battery waste is not solely generated after usage. Currently, most batteries requiring treatment are those discarded during the production phase. This is predominantly because most EV batteries are still on the roads, and it typically takes between 10 to 15 years for them to reach their end of life. This is also the case for Škoda Auto, a car manufacturer relatively new to mass-producing electric vehicles. In line with other EV OEMs, Škoda finds that a certain percentage of their batteries are deemed unsuitable during quality assurance and R&D processes. While these batteries may not meet the standards for new vehicles, they often retain a considerable amount of useful life (over 70%), making them viable for alternative uses, such as stationary storage systems.

That’s why the OEM enters into agreements with various integration partners to explore second-life opportunities for batteries. Pilot projects have shown that, in stationary systems, battery cell capacity diminishes by only about 2% per year, potentially extending battery life up to 15 years. This approach significantly reduces the carbon footprint associated with the entire lifecycle of batteries.

 

 

From Škoda Auto’s perspective, each battery that is repurposed for a second life signifies not only a reduction or postponement of recycling costs but also a potential revenue stream. Once these batteries have fulfilled their second life, they can be recycled in accordance with circular economy principles, allowing their raw materials to be reclaimed for new cell production.

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Maximising the lifetime of batteries: fleet monitoring by Bib Batteries

Choosing the most effective strategy for retired e-mobility batteries is not always easy. Bib Batteries, a French company, has developed a data-driven solution to this problem. Their algorithm assesses the residual market value of batteries, enabling them to offer battery fleet operators with the best solution: repair, second-life usage, or recycling. This system includes a digital registry for technicians to scan and manage fleet batteries via QR codes, facilitating incident reporting and providing specific instructions for repair, second-life applications, or recycling.