Journal Article - Elsevier Inc.

Electric Vehicle Recycling in China: Economic and Environmental Benefits

  • Fuquan Zhao
  • Zongwei Liu
  • Han Hao
| January 2019

With the rapid growth of electric vehicles in China, their benefits should be scientifically identified to support the industry development. Although the life cycle benefits of electric vehicles have been analyzed worldwide, the recycling phase has not been fully studied yet, especially in China. Actually, electric vehicle recycling is becoming more and more important because of the increasing demand of materials. Therefore, this study focuses on the economic and environmental benefits of electric vehicle recycling in China. Based on the technology adopted by leading enterprises, the gross income and reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are calculated to reveal the benefits. The life cycle economic and environmental impacts of recycling equipment are not included. The results indicate that the gross income per electric vehicle recycled is about 473.9 dollars, and the reductions of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are about 25.6GJ and 4.1t CO2eq, respectively. Furthermore, the environmental benefits per technology cost are about 241.3 MJ/ dollar and 36.3 kg CO2eq/dollar. The recycled metals are the major source of both economic and environmental benefits at present due to the huge amount, but the recycled cathode active materials will be more valuable with the development of traction batteries.


Electric vehicles (EVs), especially Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), are designed in recent years to help deal with the increasingly serious environmental problems in the transportation sector in China. According to the Energy Saving and New Energy Vehicles Development Plan (2012–2020) (Chinese State Council, 2012), the ownership of New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) will reach 5 million towards 2020, and most of them will be EVs. The ambition is partly achieved in the past several years. Take EV industry as an example, China produced about 0.25 million EVs in 2015 and 0.38 million EVs in 2016, and the growth rate remained high in 2017 (China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), 2017). Those evidences imply that EV development is a high priority in China now (Chinese State Council, 2015a), which ought to help China reduce the huge national Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from fuel combustion (International Energy Agency (IEA), 2017). It might also help China achieve the emission reduction target in 2030, which aims to reduce 60–65% carbon emissions per unit of GDP in comparison with the level in 2005 (Chinese State Council, 2015b). Under such circumstance, scientific identification of the real benefits of EVs in China is quite necessary for the government to formulate detailed strategies on the development of EV industry (Hao et al., 2015).

Many scientists have already studied the entire life cycle performance of EVs in different regions. The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) Model (Argonne National Laboratory, 2017a) and the Ecoinvent Model (Ecoinvent Association, 2017) have already established comprehensive databases for further studies. Based on them, Hawkins has carried out complete life cycle assessments on different kinds of vehicles in Europe, revealing that the life cycle GHG emissions of an EV was about 200 g CO2eq/km, about 10–20% lower than that of an ICEV. It could work for GHG emission reduction if well managed with the green battery production, low-carbon electricity and EV recycling (Hawkins et al., 2013). In the U.S., Mayyas has pointed out that an EV emitted about 60 t CO2 during its lifetime, over 30% lower than it of an ICEV. This was not as good as expected due to the emissions rates in the U.S. electricity sector (Mayyas et al., 2017). On the other hand, Bauer has paid more attention to different phases of EVs’ life cycle, indicating that the development of EV should be accompanied by manufacturing improvements as well as energy policies (Bauer et al., 2015). For more details, some scholars have broken the entire life cycle into specific phases. Bicer and Dincer (2017) and Huo et al. (2015) have both carried out Well-to-Wheel (WTW) assessments for of EVs. Qiao et al. (2017) has paid attention to the Cradle-to-Gate (GTG) performance of EVs. They have provided specific results for the environmental performance of EVs in each phase. These studies have pointed out that compared with Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs), EVs emit more GHG during the manufacturing phase and less GHG during the use phase. Therefore, reducing the GHG emissions of EV manufacturing will be one of the major concerns to seize further environmental benefits.

Under such circumstance, using recycled and recovered materials is considered an important method. In fact, EV recycling can help reduce about 35% of the energy consumption and GHG emissions during its manufacturing phase (Qiao et al., 2018). Scholars have already studied the recycling through different methods but none of them has built a systematic economic and environmental evaluation framework.

From the vehicle (without battery) point of view, Soo has estimated the environmental impacts of End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) recycling in Australia and Belgium but did not analyze the economic benefits (Soo et al., 2017). Pan has studied the cost and environmental impacts of ELV recycling in China. The total cost was about 0.14 yuan/kg in 2016, and the results were informative since the author employed a real enterprise case (Pan and Li, 2016).

From the battery point of view, Gaines has estimated the life cycle cost of Li-ion battery comprehensively and pointed out that the battery recycling cost through hydrometallurgical process was about 5 dollar/ kg in 2000 (Gaines and Cuenca, 2000), which was quite important for further studies. Based on this study, Gaines has predicted the future recycling techniques through economical and sustainable options (Gaines, 2014). Swain has systematically reviewed the existing Li-ion battery recycling techniques and estimated their environmental benefits (Swain, 2017). Dunn has analyzed the environmental benefits in different recycling scenarios in the U.S., but has not considered the economic problems (Dunn et al., 2015).

For entire EVs, only a few articles exist currently and most of them are not comprehensive enough. Delucchi has calculated the life cycle cost of EVs and ICEVs but the recycling process was simplified as a small part of battery disposal (Delucchi and Lipman, 2001). Noori has estimated the life cycle emissions and cost of EVs in the U.S., but the cost and revenue of recycling technique was not considered (Noori et al., 2015). Wu et al. (2015) and Rusich and Danielis (2015) have both considered this topic from the ownership perspective, but have not included the actual recycling techniques in factories. Kara has analyzed the life cycle cost of EV in Australia and the recycling cost was estimated through the given approximated price (Kara et al., 2017). Hao has studied the EV recycling process in details and estimated the environmental benefits, but the author has not paid attention to the economic problems (Hao et al., 2017b).

n short, existing literatures have provided important results about the recycling techniques, life cycle environmental impacts and life cycle costs of EVs separately. However, most of them have not studied the recycling techniques in details to reveal different impacts including the cost, revenue and GHG emissions of each recycling stage. Actually, for the economic and environmental affairs, many former studies are more concerned about the macro influence, which means that taking the whole life cycle of EV into consideration. These results are very important but must be supported by specific researches about each phase. Among all phases, EV recycling is extremely important because it can help reduce the high GHG emissions of EV manufacturing without improving the energy structure. The economic and environmental benefits of EV recycling are necessary for further studies and for the government and enterprises to make policies and strategic decisions, which are currently not available for most countries.

This study aims to provide a systematic and scientific evaluation on the EV recycling in both economic and environment sectors. China is chosen as the target region since it produced nearly half of the EVs worldwide (Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles (OICA), 2016). In order to reveal the whole picture, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) framework is employed and China-specific database and factors are included in this study.


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Qiao, Qinyu, Fuquan Zhao, Zongwei Liu and Han Hao. Electric Vehicle Recycling in China: Economic and Environmental Benefits.” , (January 2019) .