Q: Can you help me understand what happens to old hybrid batteries? Can they be recycled? What is the cost to dispose of them safely? Are there outlets for disposal conveniently available? What is the environmental impact with recycling these huge batteries? With a battery life expectancy of 8 years and a person that usually keeps a car for 10 -12 years this will be an issue I might likely face.
A: We continue to get a lot of questions about hybrid batteries and their environmental impact. As we noted before, even taking into account the larger batteries, sound studies show hybrid vehicles as an overall environmental winner. An earlier blog by our research director David Friedman noted that hybrid batteries are designed to last for the life of the vehicle, and experience to date indicates that they will probably last that long. Here’s a recent piece from MSNBC that gives more detail. They may only be warranted for 80-100,000 miles, but bear in mind that this is better than most warranties out there, and most vehicles don't fall apart the minute the warranty is up.
As for disposal, Toyota is a good barometer of how hybrid batteries are dealt with: "Toyota has a comprehensive battery recycling program in place and has been recycling nickel-metal hydride batteries since the RAV4 Electric Vehicle was introduced in 1998. Every part of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and the wiring, is recycled. To ensure that batteries come back to Toyota, each battery has a phone number on it to call for recycling information and dealers are paid a $200 "bounty" for each battery."
So while the automakers continue to look for new ways to increase the energy output and decrease the environmental footprint of hybrid batteries, rest assured that the current technology is still a net winner for the environment. However, we are going to keep our eyes peeled to make sure their promises of recycling are fulfilled so that hybrids can stay net winners.
Posted by: Don