Electric cars are powered in a similar way to mobile phones. Rather than burning fuel like petrol and diesel cars, electric vehicles (EVs) use a battery made up of lithium-ion cells that need to be charged. When plugged in, electricity is used to make chemical changes inside the batteries. When it's being driven, these changes are reversed to produce electricity.
EVs store energy back into the battery by using regenerative braking – the braking system captures kinetic energy and transfers it back into the car's batteries to make them even more energy efficient.
EV batteries are made from a range of materials including aluminium, copper and more precious materials such as lithium and graphite. These materials have to be extracted or mined from the earth – a process that is expensive and harmful to the environment.
Hybrid vehicles, and some older EVs, use nickel-metal hydride batteries. These have long life cycles, are safe and resistant to misuse, but store less energy than lithium-ion batteries.
EV batteries typically last between 15 to 20 years and most car manufacturers offer warranties that cover the first 8 years or 100,000 miles of use.
How long an EV battery lasts depends on how often you charge it and how you use your vehicle. If you’re constantly having to make long journeys and regularly deplete the battery entirely, it’s likely to degrade quickly. The same applies if you regularly use fast or rapid chargers. After 8 years, this could reduce battery capacity, but the rate of wear and tear is no different to that in petrol and diesel cars.
To better preserve an EV battery, it’s best to keep the charge level between 20% and 80%.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll need to replace an electric car battery. But if capacity does significantly reduce, a replacement might be covered by your manufacturer’s warranty.
In 2021, the average cost of an EV battery was roughly £5,638 but the cost depends on many factors, including the kind of electric car you own and the size of the battery pack.
The price of an EV battery is also predicted to fall over the next few years as the ban on new petrol and diesel cars comes into play and more drivers 'go electric’.
Once an EV battery dies, it can be used for other jobs in the electricity network or homes. Nissan, for example, recycles batteries from its Leaf cars for industrial and domestic energy storage. Jaguar Land Rover has also developed an energy storage system, giving a second life to batteries from its EVs.
At the moment, only some of the materials in an EV battery can be recycled, but companies are working to change this. Tesla, for example, has started building recycling capabilities in Nevada to process waste batteries.
As the number of EVs on UK roads increase and battery technology improves, more will be done to support the recycling of EV batteries.