Salvaging Lithium

by Ben N on August 5, 2014



Today, I was trying to get some cleanup done in my garage. It’s pretty hard to work on a hybrid truck or electric car when the garage is packed pretty solid with junk (although cool junk), camping equipment, and yes, even dead electric car batteries.

The Mitsubishi iMIEV batteries have been kicking around for far too long now. Some time back, I was severely disappointed when I removed the battery pack, only to have the Altantic Ocean fall out on me! I disassembled the battery pack to see if individual cells could be salvaged. While I seemed to have a bit of luck with one of the first blocks of cells, they wouldn’t hold a charge over any decent amount of time.

I finally found a salvage yard that would take lithium cells and figured it was time to get them out of here.

Salvage yards always like when you can break materials into separate groups, so I got started by stripping off the steel cages and then popping the plastic covers off the cell blocks. I tried removing the bus bars as well, but most of the nuts were so corroded that I would only break the post going to the cell instead. I was able to cut off the long bus bars and would take in the scrap copper for salvage as well.

DSC_2450After about an hour, I now had a pile of plastic, a pile of steel, a pile of copper, and a pile of rusted nuts. Off to the side were the stripped-down cell blocks, most of them still caged in groups of four. I went through with my volt meter one last time to see if anything remained from all those long batches of battery charging I had tried. To my surprise SIX cells total had some decent charge. I stripped those out and kept them. I was glad to see that more than four looked okay, because I could then rebuild them into a four-pack, and essentially make myself a lithium 12V battery to experiment with.

The salvage yard was about forty miles away. I had called the day before to confirm that they would take lithium. They did, but would only pay a pitiful ten cents per pound. *Sigh* Oh well, at least the batteries would be out of my garage. The company also had a good reputation. I knew that the cells wouldn’t end up in the garbage or get cracked open by children in Third-World countries.

So, I piled the cells into the back of the truck and headed off to the salvage yard.

When I arrived, I checked in at the office. The office woman welcomed me, then said she would let the guys know I was here, and sent me around to a side dock door. Inside, workers in hard-hats were sorting through computers, telephones, and other electronics. One of the guys grabbed a forklift and pallet and pulled up to my tailgate. With a piece of cardboard in place over the pallet, we loaded up the cells, which came to almost exactly fill the pallet.

I filled out some paperwork and headed back to the office. Inside, I had to wait a bit, and there was a little confusion over what chemistry the cells were, but I walked away with a check for thirty-two dollars. 320 pounds of lithium cells for $.10 a pound. Not exactly the gold mine I was hoping for, but at least the cells are happily on their way to get recycled.

Who knows, maybe some day that same lithium will end up in a Tesla. At least I know it’s not going down the drain or ending up in a landfill.

Til next time, stay charged up!


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jay August 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Wow Ben, this is the first I’ve heard of anybody paying for dead lithium. I suspect they were confused. BUT, there is a startup in Oregon that has successfully recycled Li-Ion batteries, more than can be said for Toxco in Trail, BC (who’s specialty seems to be stockpiling lithium batteries until the next fire).

2 Jarkko Santala September 3, 2015 at 11:02 am

Hey Ben, do you still have the i-MiEV? I just hacked the missing “gears” into my french version the C-Zero, and I’d really like to get the gear shifter cover panel, which has all the different positions (more than just PRND). Could you sell me yours? Send me an email, if you can. Thanks!

3 admin September 15, 2015 at 10:18 am

I DO still have the iMIEV. I’ll contact you about the shifter cover.

4 Rainer Steinacker December 23, 2018 at 2:30 pm

Hi Ben thanks a lot for dismantling the battery pack. But how to start and then proceed? Is there any information of how to do the work what to be aware of? Do you have any instructions on it?

Thanks a lot for your help. I bought a c-zero that is like the i-MiEV an no garage would neg to tkae apart and check each of the cells.

5 admin December 25, 2018 at 11:28 am

The cells in this battery pack were pretty much all dead. It’s wasn’t a replacement project.
Unfortunately anything electrical on this car was shot. I eventually sold the car to somebody who had an iMiEV with a very bad body, and he was planning on swapping all the parts over.
Because these are relatively uncommon cars, there just haven’t been that many videos of showing work on them.
It’s not that terribly difficult to remove the pack and check individual cells, but it would probably be difficult to find cells to use as replacements.
For more general information on iMiEVs, try some of the various online groups. My friend Jay also has an interesting blog where he sometimes is talking about his iMiEV. Check that out at:

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: