How will your electric car be recycled and what are the specific risks?

Transportation, handling and intervention.. What are the risks associated with recycling electric vehicles? A small foray into Indra Automobile Recycling, the leading French vehicle recycling company.

Romorantin-Lanthenay’s direction to discover the challenges and idiosyncrasies of one-day auto recycling. From internal disassembly to compaction into small cubes, we have followed closely the stages of car recycling. Opportunity to focus on a growing activity: electric vehicle recycling. A very recent chapter in automobile recycling, which develops on the different models and situations encountered.

Indra Automobile Recycling: Expert in Circular Economy

A little bit of context. Indra Automobile Recycling is a French company specializing in the recycling of end-of-life vehicles (VHU). In 15 years, Indra has established itself as a leading player in France, supporting all players in this sector. The company specializes particularly in light vehicles, and is also diversifying into industrial and two-wheeled vehicles. To better understand the auto recycling industry, here are some loose numbers:

  • 10 million vehicles reach the end of their life in Europe each year
  • European targets require the recovery (recycling) of 95% of its mass since 2015
  • Indra network reached 95.6% in 2016 (97% in Romorantin)
  • 600,000 Elphus vehicles were destroyed by Indra in 2019 (38.2% market share)
  • That is 655,000 tons of material, including 460,000 tons of steel
  • The average age of vehicle destruction in France is 19.6 years
  • Indra’s certified network consists of 380 ELV centers
  • Two locations: Romorantin-Lanthenay (pilot) and Vienne
  • 40 people on site, including 15 engineers
  • 62 million euros in turnover in 2021 (24% increase)

disassemble step by step

For our part, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit the Romorantin demo site and follow the various steps in disassembling the ELVs. On site, each VHU is “disassembled” approximately in the opposite direction to the assembly line. If this approach seems obvious, it requires certain logistics in order to optimize the handling of each vehicle. Before looking at electricity, we took the time to review each of these elements. This is to better understand all the stages that each car goes through, from the city car to the pickup truck. Here are the different situations:

  • 1: Engage the vehicle and remove the wheels, wheel arches and registration plates.
  • 2: Remove the vents (doors, hood, glass) as well as the battery and lights.
  • 3: Decontamination, disinfection and disposal of various liquids (fuel, oil, coolant, etc.).
  • 4: Remove internal and external equipment, from seat bumpers, fenders, inserts, and belts.
  • 5: Remove the drivetrain (cradle, catalytic converter, other belts and tractors, etc.).
  • 6: Remove the dashboard, cut the windshield (security) and remove the seals and carpets.

These different positions are equipped with specific tools and devices, which serve to facilitate the intervention of workers. Each step makes it possible to value different components and materials (steel, aluminum, ABS, glass, textiles and even wood). This is followed by a real dismantling of the remainder of the bodywork, thanks to a powerful 11-ton handling arm equipped with a surprisingly precise “hook”: the aptly named “Power Car Disassembler”. We admit it, the baby in us was amazed at the surgical precision of such a devastating operation!

Recycling of experimental batteries at the Volkswagen factory in Salzgitter

Electric and hybrid cars: specific risks

For over 10 years, Indra has been developing expertise dedicated to electric and hybrid vehicle (VEH) treatment. Unsurprisingly, the latter requires special precautions regarding the presence of electric batteries. In this context, AURECA Training Center even provides specific modules dedicated to the different players in this sector. Among these, we find, for example, the control of risks related to electric vehicles, or the transportation of an electric or hybrid vehicle with an accident with a handler. At present, there is still a bit of “uncertainty” in dealing with electric batteries.

We cannot always anticipate and anticipate all scenarios that may occur. The risks when dealing with an electric vehicle/its battery are not always the same. Batteries may not react in the same way depending on whether they have been in an accident, fire, or submersion. In all cases, handling begins with securing the electric battery. This is why feedback, on a case-by-case and model-by-model basis, is essential to building a network of experts.

Tools and devices used

Therefore, the equipment used is essential when it comes to high-speed vehicles. From personal protective equipment (PPE) to handling tools, every item is important. Thus, we were able to understand why and how to use certain tools and discover some subtleties. Starting with lifting solutions compatible with HEVs. Whether it is a moving elevator or a two-poster elevator, both leave, for example, completely free access to the bottom of the vehicles. This is where the operator equips himself with the electrician’s gloves, mittens, helmet and voltage tester. Let’s start with the electrical separation between the battery and the motor. The power harness and fuse are removed while checking the voltage regularly.

Remove the power harness

The battery can only be removed when no current is flowing. To do this, the mobile lift table is specially designed. This can support up to 1 ton (electric batteries generally weigh between 250 and 300 kg). As you understand, intervention in HEV requires a dedicated procedure, and for good reason. Imagine: a forklift operator authorized to handle thermal vehicles, accustomed to moving them with a forklift. By sliding the forks under an electric car, he risks falling directly onto the battery! We immediately better understand the importance of these specific operations and licenses.

What happens to the batteries?

That’s it, the battery was locked according to the disaster that occurred. So it’s ready to go back to the manufacturer, as Indra doesn’t keep electric car batteries. So the goal is to give it a second life, only if the diagnosis is appropriate and traceability is confirmed. Understand that the slightest leakage or defect in the insulation is sufficient to rule out the possibility of reusing the battery. The same applies if the HEV passed through the recycling bin after an accident, during which the airbags were triggered, for example. Since we don’t know what caused the shock inside, we don’t reuse the battery. Just a precaution. In any case, electric car batteries are being systematically removed. When everything is right, the battery can therefore benefit from a second life in various ways.

Battery Check

Some batteries, for example, return to circulation, while others are being repaired. Those who are unable to become donors offer sub-components used in the repair. It is also possible to reuse the battery modules in alternative solutions such as retrofitting. Finally, these same units can be used as energy storage solutions, among other things. Because yes, recycling is also reusing! And the sooner we get there, the better the circular economy will perform.

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