EV battery circularity begins with smart designs

EV battery circularity, and how best to achieve it, has been the subject of much discussion when it comes to electric vehicles. With many critics pointing to the environmental costs of sourcing materials used to create batteries, getting the most out of these materials and eliminating waste is a priority for the automotive industry. A large focus of the debate has been on recycling, often at the expense of maximising EV battery longevity. For us to truly unlock the environmental value of EV, repair and remanufacture need to play a more prominent role within efforts to achieve circularity. In this article, we explore how optimal outcomes begin at the design phase, laying the foundation for targeted interventions to restore and maintain optimal battery health throughout the vehicle lifecycle.

What does true EV circularity look like?

Manufacturers have a duty to consider the full life cycle impact of EV batteries on the environment. In recent years, recycling has been the favoured sustainable solution to extract additional value from damaged or faulty battery packs deemed unsuitable for use in automotive applications. This approach completely neglects the value of the remaining cells still capable of performing to the required standard. All of this value is lost during the recycling process, which is further compounded by the environmental costs that accumulate in the form of carbon emissions and excessive energy and water consumption.

Recycling is still an important part of circularity but must be preceded by exhaustive efforts to preserve the life of the battery to prevent it from being prematurely recycled through incineration. Through advanced testing methods, such as our dynamic testing methodology, we can pinpoint faults on a cellular level. Our ability to treat faults is reliant on batteries being repairable in the first place. Some batteries are designed in such a way that it is virtually impossible to carry out repairs, or certainly not in a way that is viable and without risk of repeat fault. This means that preventable battery faults become fatal ones, with battery packs and modules sent for incineration without fully tapping into the environmental benefits they promised in the first place.

Battery design holds the key to long-term sustainability

When we can identify faulty modules, Autocraft’s REVIVE™ process ensures that we can restore optimal battery performance by replacing them with healthy ones that perform to the desired standard. This can be done periodically throughout the vehicle lifetime to address the root causes of decline, at an Autocraft REVIVE™ EV battery repair centre. EV battery designs that have been developed for optimal repairability are the foundation of this process.

This requires a bit of foresight on the part of OEMs; the first step is acknowledging that one day battery packs may need to be repaired or remanufactured. Traditionally many companies were unaware of the failure rates of batteries, believing EVs to be robust and indestructible due to the absence of the moving parts which account for many of the faults within internal combustion engines. Reality shows us that faults are occurring at higher than expected rates, therefore, it is about managing this risk.

Batteries with sub-optimal repairability are often a result of pressured design decisions, with companies eager to get their products to market, without fully appreciating the long-term ramifications. EV faults carry a heavy reputational and financial cost, while the environmental cost of premature battery failure further complicates matters.


Highly trained HV technicians safely remove components on EV battery pack

What does smart battery design look like?

On a simple level, smart battery designs ensure components can be taken apart during the repair process so that faults can be removed and repaired on a modular or cellular level.

One way that OEMs can facilitate optimal repairability is by creating packs which can be unscrewed, rather than glued together, or held in by plastic clips, both of which can make extraction tricky, if not impossible. Modularity is key, ensuring we can remove and replace failing cells safely and easily.

Ultimately OEMs may need to invest in more advanced designs, reliable materials, and smarter production processes to save costs further down the line. We have actively worked with automotive manufacturers for many years on the IC engine side to support them in the design stage to ensure ‘Design for Remanufacture,’ enriching their designs with our in-depth understanding of common causes of barriers to remanufacture and recovery of key components. The same principle applies for EV batteries, and as an early entrant to the EV market, we have a comprehensive understanding of the types of issues that can occur and proactively guide manufacturers on how best to mitigate them through effective designs. For when they do occur, we can treat the root causes – but only when battery designs allow for this.

Supply chain circularity

Batteries will degrade and cannot last forever. Repair and remanufacture cannot reverse the effects of calendar ageing, nor restore a battery to ‘like new.’ It can however rectify faults and reverse the impact of cyclical ageing to ensure optimal battery performance.

For this to be possible, the repair process begins with the design of new batteries. EV battery technology is still at a relatively early stage in its evolution, leaving manufacturers somewhat vulnerable to the effects of faults that will eventually be corrected in the fullness of time. In the meantime, manufacturers can derive substantial benefit from working with specialists in EV battery repair such as Autocraft, to develop designs that allow for optimal repairability. Investing in this at an earlier stage can minimise or eliminate issues further down the line, while helping to achieve circularity goals, as batteries remain in use for longer to maximise the potential environmental benefits on offer.

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