The recent UK Government proposal to ban the sale of brand new diesel and petrol engine cars and vans from 2040 has generated plenty of column inches and opinions from journalists, specialists and interested parties. However, the majority have failed to recognise the very important part that the vehicle recycling industry will play in this decision. 95% of every car is currently recycled, however continuing to achieve this will be difficult and involve a highly technical and expensive process as vehicles become ever more complex.
Current vehicle sales show increasing volumes of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, but they are still less than 5% of annual new car sales. In reality this means that they are still a niche category, which means recycling opportunities for the specialist equipment in these vehicles are limited and significant additional costs will be driven into the recycling process.
Many of the new electric and hybrid vehicles coming into use have Lithium-Ion batteries which cannot be recycled in the UK because there are no facilities in this country. Why is this important? Once removed from a vehicle, a Lithium-Ion battery is considered to be hazardous waste and must be transported in a very safe and secure manner to a plant in Europe to be recycled – a costly, time consuming, and high-polluting process.
Many of these vehicles operate at extremely high voltages so there are considerable health and safety risks for employees tasked with taking these vehicles apart. Recycling staff therefore need to be trained in how these vehicles work, how to make them safe and how to store the hazardous components that are removed from the vehicles during the dismantling process.
In my opinion, we are on the cusp of a significant change in vehicle propulsion: the removal of diesel and petrol; increasing volumes of full electric vehicles and the introduction of hydrogen powered vehicles. This will bring a major change in vehicle technician training and education, will require significant investment in training, knowledge, workshop equipment and buildings, and (possibly) full licensing of vehicle technicians as promoted by the Institute of the Motor Industry.
Looking towards 2040 must become part of every vehicle recycler’s business plan. Preparing for the changes in the marketplace, preparing for the recycling of electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, training their staff on these vehicles and equipping the business with the correct tools all must be built into the business plan.
I see a future where everyone has solar panels on their houses, where charge points are on every street, car park, home and business, where all businesses have solar and wind power generators, and all houses and businesses have battery packs that store excess energy. Current fuel companies (BP, Esso, Shell etc.) become ‘power’ suppliers with hydrogen refuelling stations in every town and city that generate hydrogen on-site (removing transportation issues) and also feature rapid charge points for electric vehicles.
There are lots of questions that need to be answered by many different businesses, organisations and government, with the recycling and re-use of high voltage battery packs one of the most important. But we do not have 23 years to answer these questions. Chargemaster have predicted that there will be one million plug-in hybrid or full electric vehicles on the road by 2022, which will account for around 10% of new car sales (no longer a niche product). Other predictions give as much as 40% of the new car mix by 2030, meaning options for re-use or recycling need to be in place in the next 5-10 years.
So it is time for the global vehicle recycling industry to act, to demand co-operation from vehicle manufacturers and importers with technical support, dismantling and recycling data, and safety information. To ask governments across the world to work with recyclers and make certain that only licensed and compliant businesses are handling all end-of-life vehicles. They must support recycling companies that are looking to set up recycling plants dedicated to the advanced technology that will come out of end-of-life vehicles, and incentivise the re-use of high voltage batteries in energy storage systems in domestic and commercial property.
Autofinity can help vehicle recyclers prepare for the future. Contact me for a chat to find out more.