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SAZbike 22/2021
Reading time 2:00 minutes

No consensus on recycling yet

E-bike batteries have hardly been repaired so far. A German entrepreneur from Saxony wants to change this, but battery manufacturers warn of risks.

One hundred e-bikes equal one car. At least from the perspectives of battery recycling you can calculate it that way by using the battery capacity: Two million e-bike batteries sold in 2020 with about 400 watt-hours respectively, correspond to about 800,000 kilowatt-hours which in turn correspond to about 20,000 electric cars. The question is where to put them when customers return these batteries because the capacity and thus the range of the e-bike decreases too much? The easiest way is to return it to a specialist retailer. They are bound by law to take them back free of charge if the sales area for e-bikes is 400 square metres at least. Unlike almost every other part, however, batteries are not repaired by specialist dealers. This is due to safety reasons: Batteries with a capacity of more than 100 watt-hours are hazardous goods. A repair must be carried out by specially trained experts, otherwise there is a risk of fire. Reputable battery manufacturers therefore go to enormous lengths to ensure safety. They develop mechanical protection against shocks and falls or the impact of a loose battery on the floor, as well as against moisture penetration during rain.


The EU is planning more battery recycling

According to the German entrepreneur, about 500 bicycle dealers use the Liofit service. The first electric scooter manufacturers are also getting in touch with the company; bicycle manufacturers not yet. But that could change at some point, because on the one hand the world is demanding more and more rechargeable batteries, e.g. for electromobility and the households, and on the other hand the European Union wants to protect the climate. This will not work as long as battery recycling consists of blazing blast furnaces.

That is why the EU published a declaration in December 2020, i.e. the “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament concerning batteries”. From this Regulation Günther expects a lot: “We are placing our hopes in the new EU Battery Directive that is to provide further incentives for repair. This will make it more difficult to thermally recycle the battery as usual, mechanical recycling will become necessary. It should also be possible to repair and recycle batteries that are already waste. This opens up new fields of business.”


Whatever happens next, everyone is interested in one thing: High demand on the one hand and environmental protection on the other must not become millstones between which safety is ground. So how can rechargeable batteries be used in an environmentally friendly way without a safety risk in the eyes of their manufacturers?

Dirk Zedler, publicly sworn bicycle and e-bike expert and managing director of Zedler Institut in Ludwigsburg, declares: In view of the risk, I understand manufacturers and also think it is right that they currently still rigorously refuse repairs by third-party suppliers. From an environmental point of view, however, non-repairability is unspeakable.” On the other hand, the expert credits these committed manufacturers with the fact that their batteries last a particularly long time.

Zedler suggests several measures: Batteries should be used for a longer period of time; this would allow for decommissioned e-bike batteries to be used for applications with lower current consumption, such as lighting. “However, as there is currently such a variety of battery shapes on the market, there is no possibility for e-bike batteries to be reused. The topic 'Second Life’ could be taken up by the legislator”, Zedler states.

Legislation could encourage the repair of premium batteries by imposing a time or capacity-based usability. “Then manufacturers can consider whether they build the batteries in a way that they last that long, or simply develop a repair strategy, no matter whether with or without third parties”, the expert in safety suggests.

Zedler locates the limits of what is possible in cell chemistry: At some point, every cell will reach the end of its service life because of this, these are laws of nature. This could be offset by better recycling; research is needed here. Or through fundamentally new battery technologies that may eventually do without the controversial lithium. Especially since the extraction of the raw materials for battery cells is currently based on partly questionable business models”, Zedler states.

Author: Tillman Lambert