Globally, there is a notable effort to transition the transportation sector to reduce emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and move towards electric vehicles (EVs). 

As evidence, more and more EVs are appearing on Irish roads every day. In the discussion about sustainable alternatives to ICE cars, there is no doubt that EVs stand out. 

They are a technologically more advanced and cleaner mode of transportation since they do not pollute the air (NB: various renewable sources can generate electricity to power the EVs; in Ireland, this is mainly electricity generated from wind (SEAI 2021). 

This reduces the greenhouse gases (GHGs) being released into the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels is a primary source of GHGs such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) (Anandan, 2023). However, a new challenge emerges as Ireland and the rest of the world transition towards this cleaner transportation mode. What will happen to all the EV batteries when they reach the end of their lifecycle? 

According to the Irish Electric Vehicle Association (IEVA), by the second quarter of 2023, Ireland's roads had more than 100,000 electric cars, which included 58,000 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and 47,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) (IEVA 2023).

Additionally, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) stated that for the first time in Ireland's motor history, sales of ICE vehicles were lower than EVs in the first quarter of 2023 (SEAI 2023a). 

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) has highlighted a continuous growth in the adoption of EVs on Irish roads. Its data shows that by August 2023, of all the newly registered cars in Ireland, 19% were BEVs. This is an increase from 13% over the same eight-month period in the previous year, 2022. 

More specifically, in the first eight months of 2022, there were 11,618 BEV registrations, which jumped to 19,021 in the same period of 2023 – a significant growth of 64% (CSO 2023). 

The graph below (see Figure 1) demonstrates the distribution of new BEVs from March to August 2023. The collected data clearly shows that BEVs accounted for 19.9% of all newly registered cars in August alone. NBan increase in June can be attributed to an SEAI grant reduction from €5,000 to €3,500 (SEAI 2023b). Nevertheless, some EV manufacturers, like Tesla, have opted to cover the €1,500 difference, ensuring their new customers still benefit from the total grant (Tesla 2023).  

Figure 1: Distribution of the new cars' fuel types registered between March and August 2023 (CSO 2023). 

The statistics for total registered cars between 2017-2022 demonstrate a clear upward trend in the number of BEVs from 1% to 15%. In contrast, diesel cars experienced a significant drop during the same time frame, a decline from 54% to 27% (exactly half – see Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2: The percentage of new cars in Ireland by fuel type between 2017 and 2022 (CSO 2023). 

Figure 3: Number and Percentage of the new BEVs in Ireland between 2017 and 2022 (CSO 2023).


A concern arises when considering the average lifespan of an EV battery. Typically ranging between 10 to 14 years, depending on the battery chemistry, many early EV adopters will soon face battery replacement. Due to constant charge and discharge cycles, a battery's state of charge (SoC) eventually degrades over time. 

Unfortunately, this degradation will result in a reduced charging capacity and, consequently, the vehicle's driving range (SEAI 2023c). This situation creates the primary environmental concern. 

Expired batteries generate a risk to the environment, particularly damaged lithium batteries, which are extremely hazardous and demand careful handling and disposal. 

Currently, EVs mostly use three types of batteries: lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP), nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) (see Table 1). These batteries contain potentially dangerous chemicals such as lithium (Li), nickel (Ni) and cobalt (Co), increasing the magnitude of the disposal challenge (Man 2023).

Table 1: Different EV battery chemistries and attributes (Man 2023).

This creates a fundamental question: how are various types of batteries recycled (including expired, faulty and damaged ones)? According to Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Ireland, the organisation sends a specially trained team equipped with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and tools to safely handle, store and transport these battery packs for recycling (WEEE Ireland 2023). 

They are collaborating with contractors like ELV Environmental Services CLG (ELVES), who are fully permitted to collect such units for decommissioning.  Given the rigorous regulations, transporting certain batteries, such as damaged lithium ones, is quite challenging.  

All contractors are bound by the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations (ADR); these regulations require specific packaging measures in place.

Depending on the battery's condition, special containers might be needed. For example, when dealing with damaged EV lithium batteries, a specialised storage container such as the LiBa®Box is used – see Figure 4 (NB: this example costs more than €14,000) (Gelkoh 2023.)

Figure 4: Different LiBa®Box sizes (Gelkoh 2023).

However, there is an important point to consider. These batteries are not transported to the Irish recycling facilities but to Europe. In a correspondence to WEEE Ireland (Oct 2023), the head of batteries and projects informed that these batteries are sent to Accurec Recycling GmbH in Germany (Accurec 2023). 

This is done by K Metals Recycling (KMK 2023). KMK adheres to the TFS (trans-frontier shipment) regulations to manage this process and ensures a DGSA (dangerous goods safety adviser) is involved. Furthermore, the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Act (IMDG) supervises the final shipment to European processing plants. Directing this complicated and highly regulated process is quite challenging on its own. 

Future goals

This situation creates an opportunity for Ireland. On the one hand, decommissioning batteries present environmental risks, but on the other hand, there is an economic prospect associated with these batteries. 

The economic opportunity is in recovering and reusing the materials contained within these EV batteries. Ireland could capitalise on this by recycling batteries and repurposing their components in other applications, such as second life batteries (SLB). 

As presented in Haram et al (2021), once EV batteries reach around three-quarters of their nominal capacity (~70-80%), it is considered to have ended its primary life. Even the batteries with a lower state of health (SOH) still possess value depending on their condition

They can be adapted for secondary applications, such as supporting power in grid-scale photovoltaic (PV) plants or residential properties. The challenge is that repurposing them requires some upgrades and modifications, as most industry systems work at voltages between 800–1000 V. Figure 5 presents SLB applications, comparing the recycled industry with the EV battery system requirements. 

Figure 5: SLB applications/EV battery system requirements (Haram et al 2021). 

The EV batteries mentioned above, such as LFP, NMC or NCA, are made up of various components, each presenting distinct recycling challenges and requirements. 

While some of these components can be recycled with current technologies, others require more complicated and demanding procedures to recover the desired materials.  

As highlighted by Crownhart (2023), recycling facilities can recover more than 80% of lithium and almost all nickel and cobalt from decommissioned batteries.

Additionally, some aluminium (Al), graphite (Gr) and copper (Cu) can be extracted. NB: the recycling facilities can market these recycled materials at almost the same prices as the mined resources. 

For example, in (Leal et al 2023), the components of the lithium-ion batteries (LIB) consist of the aluminium current collector, usually a lithium compound such as lithium-cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) for cathode and the copper current collector and graphite serving as the anode (see Figure 6). 

Figure 6: Components of the lithium-ion batteries (LIB) (Leal et al. 2023). Cathode (+); Separator; Anode (-).

Figure 7 illustrates a detailed recycling process for LIB. Accurec Recycling GmbH executes this process in Germany, the destination for decommissioned Irish batteries (Accurec 2023).

Figure 7: Recycling of LIB (Accurec 2023). 

The Circular Energy Storage (CES) forecasts that the market for LIBs will keep growing and by 2030 (see Figure 8), it is estimated that 77% of the total LIBs installed volume will come from the EVs (Leal et al 2023).

Figure 8. Accumulative SLB volume (Haram et al 2021). 

Along with the advancements in battery technologies for BEVs, recycling methods must also evolve. Developing environmentally friendly processes that allow recycled materials to be repurposed efficiently with technical applications is essential. Implementing an ecofriendly approach is necessary in a circular economic model that promotes sustainable economic growth (see Figure 9) (Leal et al 2023).

Figure 9. LIBs Circular Economy (Leal et al 2023). 

Call to action

The main concern is that once an EV battery ends its lifecycle and is decommissioned, it is shipped to a recycling plant in Germany. Though this might seem like an attractive option, it is effectively a short-term solution. 

First, transporting used or damaged batteries presents an environmental risk; there is the constant threat that toxic elements from the batteries, such as cobalt or lithium, could contaminate the water or soil (NB: the transportation process itself by road and sea adds a carbon footprint.)

Second, Ireland is letting go of valuable recyclable materials that could be repurposed for domestic industries. This challenge could become an opportunity where the EV batteries are recycled here, not sending the problem away.  

As presented by Corrigan (2023), Ireland’s engineering Research and Development (R&D) ecosystem is remarkably strong and backed by organisations such as Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation (SFI) Ireland, Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Ireland and Irish universities. 

Furthermore, enhanced with a pool of ambitious and highly educated engineers, Ireland could set up its own recycling facilities. By promoting and investing in R&D, developing partnerships with industry investors, academic organisations and government (ie, industry-academia-government collaborations), Ireland could establish facilities tailored for the Irish and later European markets. 

This would lead to the beginning of a new industrial sector, creating jobs and ensuring environmental protection. Several prospects include the utilisation of SLBs for less intensive applications, such as grid storage, energy storage for renewable energy systems or backup power sources (Haram et al 2021).

Using these batteries in secondary applications can extend their lifespan, therefore maximising their effectiveness and delaying their disposal phase and, in a situation of completely degraded SLBs, extracting and reprocessing valuable materials. Moreover, this entire effort would drive R&D in creating more sustainable EV battery technologies.

In order to be successful, this challenge requires a multi-layered approach. First, it is vital to educate EV owners about correct battery disposal practices and offer incentives to return their used battery packs for recycling (the general public must also be aware of these opportunities).

Second, it is necessary to implement robust regulations ensuring that every stakeholder, from manufacturers to final users, plays their part responsibly. 

Last, establishing international partnerships and collaborations. While Ireland is well able to develop its own SLB applications and establish a recycling infrastructure, it could also benefit significantly from global cooperative projects, public research and best practices from around the world.

In conclusion, while promising a sustainable and greener future, the EV revolution also introduces the task of managing and recycling decommissioned EV batteries. 

Ireland certainly has the resources to take proactive steps by recognising the potential risk of the used batteries and turning this into a significant opportunity (ie, an environmental challenge transformed into an industrial prospect). It is an opportunity to protect Ireland’s environment and drive economic, innovative and sustainable growth. 

Author: Adrian Szlapka, a professional with a decade of experience in the medtech industry, is a QA specialist at Abbott Diagnostic, Co Longford. He is in the final year of a Science and Technology Studies degree at the University of Galway. 


Journals articles/books

Haram, M.H.S.M., Lee, J.W., Ramasamy, G., Ngu, E.E., Thiagarajah, S.P. and Lee, Y.H. (2021) ‘Feasibility of utilising second life EV batteries: Applications, lifespan, economics, environmental impact, assessment, and challenges’, Alexandria Engineering Journal60(5), pp.4517-4536, available: [accessed 1 Oct 23].

Leal, V.M., Ribeiro, J.S., Coelho, E.L.D. and Freitas, M.B.J.G. (2023) ‘Recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries as a sustainable solution to obtain raw materials for different applications’. Journal of Energy Chemistry79, pp.118-134, available: [accessed 17 Oct 23].

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Leal, V.M., Ribeiro, J.S., Coelho, E.L.D. and Freitas, M.B.J.G. (2023)‘Components of the lithium-ion batteries (LIB)’[image], available: [accessed 17 Oct 23].

Leal, V.M., Ribeiro, J.S., Coelho, E.L.D. and Freitas, M.B.J.G. (2023) LIBs Circular Economy’ [image], available: [accessed 17 Oct 23].


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