1 Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid 28006, Spain
Keywords: Electric Vehicles, End-of-life, Recycling, Circular Economy.
E-mobility has become a reality. Since the beginning of 2010, the sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in Europe have experienced an exponential growth, reaching a figure of about 746,000 new registered vehicles in 2020, a quantity that is expected to continue growing during the following decades . This increase is translating into more EVs reaching their end-of-life (EoL) and, consequently, a greater number of publications focused in the circular economy within the EoL process for EVs . However, though most of these researches deal with quite important initiatives, very few highlight the problems associated with the current Directive 2000/53/CE on EoL Vehicles (ELVs). Since it was made only taking in consideration combustion vehicles (CVs), some of its applications may enter into conflict with the two main solutions, second life and recycling, that the circular economy proposes for EVs.
In this context, this work is framed, whose main objectives are to demonstrate that, though there is a growing academic interest in the circular economy within the EoL process for EVs, not many investigations cover the issues related to the actual Directive. And to prove that this Directive doesn’t benefit EVs, with the example of how the material’s weight composition affects the process of recycling. In order to achieve these objectives, the trend presented by academic articles and patents will be studied through the Scopus tool, and the difference between combustion and electrical vehicles’ weight composition will be compared and analyzed, to point out how the actual legislation on ELVs is not properly adjusted to the recycling needs of EVs.
2. Academic interest in end-of-life EVs
The current trend of e-mobility and its future consequences have generated great interest from the scientific community . This is possible to demonstrate thanks to the Scopus tool, which allows to search for articles or patents, within its large database, according to previously established conditions (keywords plus logical operators). For this work, the conditions used are: electric vehicle & end-of-life (case A), electric vehicle & second life (case B) electric vehicle & recycling (case C) and electric vehicle & end-of-life & directive (case D).
The results obtained, after applying the previous conditions, are very revealing. Since they show that the number of publications and patents related to circular economy within the EoL of EVs, released in the last 20 years, is growing exponentially. Being more focused on aspects like second live initiatives or recycling processes, rather than issues that arise due to the application of the current Directive on ELVs to EVs (see Fig. 1). Therefore, there is a lack of pressure from the scientific community towards the development of a new Directive more involved with the influence of the e-mobility in the EoL process.
3. Material’s weight composition of EVs
As it has been proven, the interest in solving the problems, that the actual legislation on ELVs is creating for the EVs, is not gaining ground. That’s why, when an EV faces the EoL stage, certain issues arise. For example, when recycling, a very important aspect is the materials’ weight composition, and it is well-known that the type of materials used in CVs and EVs is different, as well as the weight distribution. However, according to the Directive 2000/53/EC on ELVs, a fixed recycling rate, based on the average weight of the vehicle, is applied for both cases . Which means that, depending on the materials they are made of and their weight distribution, it will be easier to meet or not.
The problem with this percentage limit is that it was established mainly in response to the configuration of internal combustion vehicles. Nevertheless, EVs present, not only a different material’s weight distribution, but a different systems’ weight distribution (see Fig. 2), making it difficult to obtain optimal recycling rates . If a reference vehicle for both combustion and electric drivetrain is established, it can be seen that the amount of aluminium, plastic and critical metals (Li, Ni or Co among others) increases in the VE, due to the presence of the battery and other needs.
This difference implies that, when recycling, the same results will not be obtained, as some materials and systems present more complex preparation and recovery processes. Besides, unlike CVs, in EVs what truly matters is the recycling of critical metals that make up the battery, due to the difficulty of their supply. Therefore, if the limit set is a percentage related to the average weight per vehicle and year, it would be enough recycling the entire structure and sheet metal, whose process is easy and well known, instead of focusing on what really matters, the recovery of critical metals.
That’s why, the actual Directive is missing the establishment of various recycling limits dependant on the type of material assessed, so that the greater the importance, the higher priority it is given. Without those limits, it won’t be possible to promote new technologies and recycling processes that, in turn, will help to increase them.
Taking into account everything, it is possible to conclude that, though there is a growing interest, from an academic and business point of view, on the EoL process of EVs, only a small percentage of the publications bring to light the necessity of reviewing the current legislation on ELVs. Which is causing the EVs to face the same restrictions as the CVs, when they are very different in nature. Besides, it is also concluded that, when it comes to recycling, the current Directive penalizes EVs, since they have different material’s weight distribution than internal combustion vehicles. Which translates into greater difficulty in complying with the recovery and recycling rate set by it. Therefore, the revision of this legislation, should take into account a change in the compulsory recycling limits. In order to adjust the percentage of recycled materials individually, prioritizing those that are most critical (such as the Li, Co or Ni), and adapt the situation, as much as possible, to the current paradigm of the automotive sector and its future needs.
- European Environment Agency Homepage, https://www.eea.europa.eu/, last accessed 2021/03/05.
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- Directive 2000/53/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on end-of life vehicles. Official Journal of the European Communities (21 October 2000).
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