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Environmental and economic assessments of electric vehicle battery end-of-life business models

Benedikte Wrålsen (photo)

The aim of this work is to provide recommendations for global economic and environmental sustainability of used electric vehicles batteries by considering a circular economy.

Benedikte Wrålsen

PhD Candidate

Benedikte Wrålsen will defend the thesis “Environmental and economic assessments of electric vehicle battery end-of-life business models»  for the PhD degree 3 October 2023.

Summary of the thesis

The number of electric vehicles is rapidly and continuously increasing due to the transport sector’s electrification to reduce emissions such as greenhouse gases. Each electric vehicle is powered by a battery that can contain remaining capacity
after first use and several potentially valuable materials. The demand for energy storage systems accelerates the need for these batteries. Considering the upcoming volumes of used electric vehicle batteries, a circular economy for batteries is crucial to enhance environmental and economic sustainability. Circular economy business models aim to strategically reduce the use of resources by closing, narrowing, and slowing material loops, enabling economically and environmentally sustainable business. However, the potential environmental benefits of such circular economy efforts are not explicit. The aim of this work is to provide recommendations for global economic and environmental sustainability of used electric vehicles batteries by considering a circular economy. This objective requires an interdisciplinary approach, building on existing research fields and methods within business and engineering sciences. This interdisciplinary approach prevents problem shifting between environmental and economic sustainability performance of the circular business models identified and assessed. In order to address the main thesis aim, four research questions were developed, and four corresponding publications were produced as a result. Paper I explores market opportunities and limitations for used electric vehicle batteries in Norway, a country with a high market share of electric cars in new car sales. The work qualitatively models the used electric vehicle batteries business ecosystem based on interviews with the industrial ecosystem actors. The globally relevant findings from paper I identify realistic end-of-life alternatives for paper II. Paper II identifies and discusses the globally recommended circular business model to enhance a circular economy for batteries from electric vehicles. The Delphi panel viii method enables a battery expert panel to elaborate on a suitable circular business model for the upcoming volumes of used electric vehicle batteries. Paper III assesses the identified circular business model from paper II to discuss how such a business model can be economically viable and realistic. The techno-economic assessment considers multiple scenarios to detect economic factors for circular business model success. Paper IV assesses the identified circular business models from paper II to discuss how such a business model can benefit the climate and natural environment. Life cycle assessment methodology can calculate the environmental impacts of decisions between business models. Life cycle assessment can detect problems shifting between ecological impact categories, such as greenhouse gas emissions and contamination of the natural environment. The research reveals that repurposing electric vehicle batteries in appropriate second-life applications can reduce their environmental impact and extend their useful lifespan. Eventually, the materials must be recycled to the extent possible. This circular business model’s key environmental benefit is the potential reduction in the demand for new batteries, which could help displace primary production and avoid emissions and other environmental impacts from these industrial processes. However, there is a risk this circular business model may be economically unviable. Several factors must be considered and combined to improve profitability and realistic commercial operations, including the state of health, ageing, lifetime of the battery after its first life, price of used batteries, ownership model, location, second-life application, potential grid connection, and electricity profile of the battery system.

Find more about time and place for the doctoral defense.