Electric cars - impact on the non-ferrous metals market

Electric cars - impact on the non-ferrous metals market

Until a few months ago, metal recyclers lived in the belief that changes in the automotive market would have a very significant impact on the recycling market including non-ferrous metals (copper, aluminium, nickel, recycling of cables, batteries and electric motors) and rare earth elements (lithium, cobalt, neodymium, praseodymium, etc.). Everyone expected the electric car market to make a big difference to car recycling in the long term. Because of the metals that are found in electrics their quantity and value, many companies started investing in new technologies especially in the area of battery recycling, which would recover valuable metals in an environmentally friendly way.

In the short term, the market expected an increased demand for non-ferrous metals, an increased number of internal combustion cars to be recycled (replacing them with electrics) and in the long term a reduction in the recycling of internal combustion cars and thus a decrease in the amount of recycled aluminium from which internal combustion engines are built.
There are also new opportunities related to recycling of electric motors, batteries and purchase of copper cableswhich are significantly more numerous in electric cars than in combustion cars.
The expected increase in demand for non-ferrous metals was due to the fact that electric cars use more non-ferrous metals than traditional internal combustion vehicles:


According to various studies and reports, it can be estimated that the value of metals in an electric car represents a significant part of its production costs. According to some studies available on the internet, metals can account for up to to 40-50% of the production costs of an electric vehicle.
Despite the increased use of non-ferrous metals in electric cars (especially copper), demand for aluminium and platinum was forecast to fall. Aluminium due to the abandonment of the production of internal combustion engines, gearboxes, which are mostly built of aluminium (aluminium casting) while the reduction in demand for platinum was expected to be due to a reduction in the production of catalytic converters, in which platinum is used in large quantities and which are not used in electric cars.

In addition to the above changes for electric cars, we can also expect to see increased demand for non-ferrous metals in relation to the construction of chargers, their connections and the upgrading of the power grid associated with the provision of adequate connection power (transformers, cables, etc.) The transformation of the automotive market has raised many questions and concerns for vehicle recyclers.
A key change will affect the market for used spare parts, which will have a significant impact on the revenues of vehicle dismantlers. The drive train of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine is the best-selling part for virtually all car dismantlers. The drivetrain of an electric vehicle is very different from an internal combustion vehicle - it is smaller and lighter, with far fewer moving parts. Fewer moving parts means fewer breakdowns - good for the consumer, but not good for the car recycler who has to sell parts to cover the cost of acquiring, moving and processing the vehicle.

The recycling of the bodywork will also change. Before the bodywork can be shredded, the battery will need to be removed from the car. Which can be difficult, expensive and dangerous due to the need to remove the battery, which can ignite if not handled properly.
Once the battery is removed, what is left is the recycling of the battery, which as of today is unknown. From the perspective of car recyclers, an electric car is a vehicle based on a built-in battery that we don't know if it will be recycled because its life is designed to last longer than the car in which it is fitted. This gives rise to a number of reuse schemes such as energy banks.

As the battery is the main value of a scrapped electric vehicle, it may be that battery recyclers will want to dominate the car recycling market. These companies will have the expertise to remove and recycle batteries and other valuable components (electric motors, copper cables) and they will hand over the bodies themselves to smelters or other final recyclers.
At this point, mention should also be made of the recycling of road/rail tankers, distributors or fuel depots, which, due to the reduction in demand for fuel, will decrease in the long term. However, I would not expect any sharp increases in this area. I believe that these appliances will be recycled naturally as they reach the end of their useful life.
Despite the predicted bright future for the industry, we have recently seen a decline in demand for electric cars. This is due to fires in electric cars, their range in winter and problems with the availability of chargers and their insurance. This is causing European factories to close and more and more countries are starting to question whether electric cars are a good idea.
For the recycler market, this may mean that the investments made in battery recycling will become unprofitable, while the internal combustion car recycling market will continue unabated.

In summary, the growth of the electric car market is undoubtedly impacting the car recycling industries and the non-ferrous metals market by increasing demand, changing preferred metals and forcing innovation in vehicle recycling technology.
What will happen in the future time will tell.