If the life, death, and environmental impact of your EV battery has you emotionally charged, the article below, written by Karen Ebidia for the Tesla Owners Club of Ontario newsletter, is your perfect next read.
Shared with TOCO president John Dixon’s permission, the piece breaks down how long you can expect your battery to run and outlines the comparison between fossil fuel, lithium extraction, and recycling.
We all know that our Tesla battery pack won’t last forever, but how long will it last? And what happens to Tesla battery packs when they reach end-of-life?
Tesla car battery packs are designed to last 300,000 – 500,000 miles or about 21 – 35 years based on the average amount of miles Americans drive in a year (according to Elon). Your battery pack should be good for a while.
Let’s talk a bit about batteries for a moment. In the not-so-distant future, it is hoped that battery recycling will play a key role in supplying many of the materials required to produce batteries. Right here and now, the reality is that global battery cell production relies heavily on mined materials to meet the growing demand for EV batteries.
Looking to the future, longer battery life is deemed to be the most sustainable option. It is less expensive and has less impact on the environment. Before Tesla decommissions and recycles a consumer battery pack, they do everything they can to extend the useful life of each pack, which can include over-the-air software updates to improve battery efficiency when Tesla engineers make new discoveries.
An important distinction between fossil fuels and lithium-ion batteries as an energy source is that while fossil fuels are extracted and used once, the materials in a lithium-ion battery are recyclable. When petroleum is pumped out of the ground, chemically refined, and then burned, it releases toxic emissions into the atmosphere that are not recoverable for reuse. Battery materials, in contrast, are refined and put into a cell and will remain in the cell at the end of their life when they can be recycled to recover valuable materials for reuse, repeatedly. – 2021 Tesla Impact Report
Diversification of battery chemistries is critical for long-term capacity growth. This is supported by Tesla’s move to increase the number of vehicles equipped with a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, containing no nickel or cobalt. Currently, LFP batteries are most often used in Tesla’s standard range vehicles. In August 2021, Tesla started offering LFP battery packs to customers in North America who had ordered Standard Range Model 3 trim configurations. Tesla had been using LFP battery cells in Asia and Europe, while North American builds used nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries. In North America, deciding to go with an LFP battery pack meant an earlier vehicle delivery as LFP batteries don’t suffer from the same supply constraints as lithium-ion. Elon has said the product experience between nickel and iron is “roughly equivalent”.
So what does happen to Tesla battery packs once they reach the end of their life?
Tesla recycles every battery used in their R&D or returned from the field that cannot be re-manufactured. Tesla batteries are built to last many years. Currently, they’ve only received a limited number back from the field. Most of the batteries that Tesla recycles today are pre-consumer – from their R&D and quality control. None of their scrapped lithium-ion batteries go to landfills. 100% are recycled. Tesla re-manufactures batteries coming from the field to the Service Centers, actively implementing circular economy principles and taking into consideration all other options before deciding to recycle.
The small number of post-consumer batteries they receive are mostly from their engineering fleet of vehicles. Since the Model S (oldest model) has only been manufactured for approximately ten years, it may be a while before they start receiving back vehicle batteries in larger volumes.
What can you do to extend the life of your battery pack? Tesla recommends the following best practices:
- If possible, maintain a regular, everyday charging routine using a low-voltage charger, such as a wall connector at your home. Avoid allowing the battery to get too low in charge.
- Only use DC fast charging (i.e., Supercharging) when necessary, such as during long road trips.
- For daily use, you can charge up to 90%.
- Save charging to 100% for when you are preparing for a longer trip. Elon has tweeted “Charge to 90% to 95% and you’ll be fine. At 100% state of charge, regen braking doesn’t work, because the battery is full, so car is less efficient”.
- Lithium-ion batteries do not have any memory effect, so there is no need to deplete the battery before charging.
- Minimize the batteries at 100% state of charge.
For more information about Tesla battery packs and Tesla’s move towards greater sustainability, see the Supply Chain section of the 2021 Tesla Impact Report.
By: Karen Ebidia