The company, which is the UK's largest vehicle recycling and salvage firm, will be expanding its site in Winsford, Cheshire, with the intention of becoming the country's leading EV recycler. Over the next few years, and long in advance of the 2030 deadline for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, SYNETIQ will turn the site into the largest EV-specific facility in Europe.
Already, it has trained more than 50 staff to specialise in the dismantling and handling of EVs and hybrids safely, and it is planning on expanding this capability. This investment in people goes hand-in-hand with that made in equipment and processes at its Gloucester plant, where £500,000 has been spent ensuring it is geared-up for EV recycling.
Unlike how we might typically imagine a traditional scrap yard – where petrol and diesel cars go to die - SYNETIQ's business isn't just about the rough disposal of spent vehicles. It has an ethos of reduce, reuse, re-man and recycle when it comes to the vehicles it handles. In some cases this means they are deemed viable to return to the road, and where that isn't possible, they are dismantled for usable parts which are sold to the repair sector.
When applied to any vehicle, this is a more environmentally sound way of operating. Where EVs are concerned, the benefits are even greater, as the more use an EV or its components get, the more likely they are to become carbon negative, whereby they have paid back any carbon debt created in manufacture, and are actually helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Another thing worth bearing in mind is that an older EV can have new life breathed into it by replacing a battery like-for-like with a less used one, or even – thanks to developments in battery management – for a newer battery with better chemistry. With SYNETIQ implementing battery storage at its Winsford site, this could be a boon down the line.
Recycling the shell and interior components of a car is a known quantity. Companies like SYNETIQ have been doing it for decades, and doing it cleanly at that. The challenge for the vehicle recycling industry is in being able to handle the batteries and EV-specific components, rare earth metals and chemicals unique to electric vehicles. This is especially prevalent in earlier EVs which will typically have higher instances of exotic metals in their batteries and motors.
A year ago we reported on the desperate need for battery recycling capacity to expand rapidly in the UK and it's a problem which hasn't gone away. For the full year 2019, somewhere in the region of 7000 tons of EV batteries will eventually need to be recycled or disposed of, and this figure is growing exponentially year-on-year as the popularity of EVs explodes.
Schemes like that by BMW MINI and Off Grid Energy will give second life to batteries, but there is a critical need for more companies like SYNETIQ to get into the EV recycling business. And whilst we'd love to point at the government's 10 point green plan (released at the same time as the 2030 ban announcement) and be assured that recycling has been thought about, it's almost certainly going to fall to the private sector to step up.