The Environmental Impact of Refurbishing Batteries

Powering everything from cellphones to electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries eventually wear out and need to be recycled or refurbished. This poses a challenge for the environment and battery manufacturers alike.

Currently, the most common methods of recycling spent lithium-ion battery cells involve harsh chemical processes that can be toxic and corrosive to the environment. U of A researcher Anil Kumar Vinayak is working on eco-friendly alternatives.


Are refurbished batteries any good? Refurbishing lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) is an efficient and economical way to reuse retired battery packs, enabling them to provide additional value in stationary energy storage systems and other applications. This second-life pathway is also beneficial for the environment. It prevents the production of new LIBs and reduces the number of materials used to produce energy while reducing transportation and disposal costs.

However, refurbishing batteries requires a significant investment in capital and labor resources. These include transportation and logistics, testing, break-up and packing, and estimating the remaining cycle life of the battery system.

The cost of reusing a retired battery pack depends on the type of module and cell used. It is generally more expensive to repurpose prismatic or pouch cells than cylindrical cells because of the different dimensions and required energy capacity.

A key challenge for refurbishment is determining the salvage value of a retired battery system, which is largely based on the individual cells’ internal resistances and degradation history. Nevertheless, using data-based approaches to predict which cells are likely to remain healthy and valuable in the new application is possible.

To reduce the cost of refurbishing a battery pack, more research is needed to develop data-based approaches for predicting first-life degradation behavior and diagnosing the state of health of retired battery systems. Such techniques can help to determine which retired battery packs should be refurbished or repurposed, avoiding costly additional physical testing and ensuring that the best cells are used in the new application.

Environmental Impact

Batteries are essential in addressing energy and environmental challenges, but their life cycle negatively impacts the environment. The process of mining and refining metals for batteries, such as cobalt and nickel, creates waste that leaks toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

These issues can be addressed by ensuring that batteries are correctly used, including recycling, reuse, and second-use applications, which can help reduce their negative impacts on the environment and overall cost. This RFI seeks input from stakeholders in the battery industry, researchers, academia, state, tribal and local governments, including U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, as well as other federal agencies, community groups, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations, regarding potential solutions for safely managing battery end-of-life.

The main focus of this RFI is to learn how best to ensure that batteries are collected, stored, transported, recycled, and used for safe and sustainable second-life applications. This includes gathering information on how existing best practices have worked to increase the safety of battery collection.

Spending batteries must be properly processed and disposed of, as these can be hazardous to the environment and human health. Detailed assessments are needed to understand the impacts of disposal and processing on air, water, and land. These include identifying pollution pathways, the sources of pollution, and the threats associated with these pathways.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of a battery has a significant impact on its environment. Batteries degrade over their lifetime due to various factors, including self-discharge, unwanted chemical reactions, and battery temperature. These processes all result in a corresponding loss of shelf life and charge retention.

Temperature is the primary driver of these chemical reactions. A battery’s exposure to high temperatures can cause adverse reactions such as passivation, increasing its internal resistance. This also results in a loss of capacity.

This is because the rate of a battery’s degradation is doubled for every 10 degrees rise in temperature. This means batteries with lower temperatures will have longer lifetimes than those with higher temperatures.

Refurbishing a battery is a process of recovering used batteries used in an electric vehicle (EV) or other application for a short time and reusing them in another application. This can take the form of incineration, restoration, or remanufacturing.

Reusing is the most sustainable option, an essential aspect of EV battery recycling. However, recycling end-of-life batteries can be expensive as it requires more testing and processing than a standard recycling process.

Despite these challenges, reuse offers the most environmentally friendly route to recycling spent batteries and is increasingly becoming a popular option among EV manufacturers. Its benefits include reduced environmental impacts and economic advantages such as less energy usage and lower transport costs.


Refurbishing batteries effectively increase their life cycle and reduces the environmental impact of manufacturing new ones. Recycled batteries also provide valuable materials to the battery-making industry.

The key to recycling these batteries is to separate the cathode from the anode material. The process consists of dismantling and shredding the storm and then melting or dissolving it in acid to remove impurities.

These steps are energy intensive and can result in emissions that are harmful to the environment. To avoid those problems, researchers led by Wang and his colleagues have developed a new method that keeps some old cathodes intact.

Using this technique, they can recover lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese without using newly mined materials. It’s a more efficient way to recycle batteries, saving up to 80 percent compared to conventional methods.

In addition to saving energy and reducing carbon emissions, reusing lithium-ion batteries reduces the raw material required to manufacture new batteries. This is important because most batteries contain valuable metals, which can be recovered and reused as new products.