EV battery recycling: Can the World Handle the Influx of Them?
Battery Technologies
Circular Economy
Resource Conservation
Sustainable Supply Chain

EV battery recycling: Can the World Handle the Influx of Them?

Lithium-ion batteries (LIB) are burgeoning in use because of the rapid growth of the electric vehicle (EV) market. Their high energy density makes them an excellent and efficient option for mobility. Now questions about EV battery recycling are beginning to take over the conversation.

About 145 million electric cars are expected on roads by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. This will inevitably challenge the supply chains for essential battery components.

Developing a circular economy for EV battery packs is more important than ever.

LIB batteries contain a variety of metals including aluminum, cobalt, copper, and nickel. Some estimates predict that by 2030 lithium demands will increase by more than 350%. The demand for nickel will likely double.

Mining these resources will become increasingly unsustainable. Furthermore, the toxicity of the metals in the batteries carries environmental concerns.

In the next decade, research organization Circular Energy Storage predicts that 1.2 tons of LIBs will be ready for recycling. Therefore, the need to identify efficient recycling and repurposing methods is of increasing importance.

For more on sustainable alternatives, check out our article on plant-based EV battery solutions.

 

ev battery recycling materials

While the market is adjusting, the global regulatory outlook is still evolving.

In the U.S. a task force has been proposed to research EV battery reuse. However, there is currently no federal policy addressing LIB recycling, according to a report by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Similarly, the E.U. has yet to establish policies. However, proposals may be implemented at the end of the decade. They could require new batteries to be composed of specified amounts of recycled cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel.

China, on the other hand, has outlined relevant policies. These include manufacturer recycling responsibilities and information mandates at all stages of the process to determine the most effective methods.

Japan, meanwhile, has laws regulating battery recycling but is less clear on electric vehicle batteries. However, many of the LIB recycling patent applications are coming out of Japan.

EV battery recycling

As it stands, the limited amount of end-of-life batteries currently makes recycling and recovering their valuable materials expensive.

However, the E.U. proposal for mandatory use-quotas of recycled materials. This would stimulate recycling by “creating a scarce commodity with high demand and low supply.”

The recycling market for lithium-ion batteries is expected to boom in the coming years. In 2042, an estimated 12 million tons of them will be recycled. The recycled metals will be worth $51 billion, according to research agency IDTechEx.

With such great expectations for the recycling market, the focus returns to how to best handle end-of-life batteries.

Typically, when LIBs are processed for recycling they are dismantled and shredded into a product called “black mass.” This substance contains a combination of lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel.

ev battery recycling methods

A standard method of recycling involves pyrometallurgy, the process of applying heat to ore for the extraction of base metals. This incurs certain environmental costs, however, as it generates toxic emissions and is known to create local water pollution.

Another method, direct recycling, involves preserving anode and cathode materials by dissembling LIBs and separating the components. It requires less energy and resources but is labor-intensive.

However, the ACS’s report estimates that hydrometallurgy is the most economical option. This method utilizes aqueous solutions to recover metals from recycled materials. While the energy and facility costs are relatively lower, it requires a large number of reagents and water for processing.

In short, the recycling infrastructure is still developing, but organizations around the world are beginning to step up to meet demands.

In Japan, Sumitomo Metal plans to open a dedicated lithium-ion battery recycling facility in 2023. Sumitomo claims it will be able to process 7,000 tons of crushed batteries annually in a “battery-to-battery” recycling flow.

According to their website, they’ve established a new recycling process for recovering copper, nickel, cobalt, and lithium from used secondary batteries.

EV battery recycling technology

In the United States, Aqua Metals has developed a process that uses an aqueous base electrolyte process. It extracts cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese hydroxide, and lithium hydroxide from black mass. They claim to produce high purity metals while avoiding toxic emissions and recycling the water and chemicals used during the process.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) is one of the leading EV battery manufacturers in China. They recently invested about $5 billion to build a battery material recycling facility in Hubei province. Their customers include Tesla and Volkswagen.

With a greater demand for increasingly rarer resources, recycling is a required solution to the development of a decarbonized society. The clock is ticking. The lifetime of EV batteries is estimated to be about 8 to 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Therefore, a large number of depleted batteries will not be returning for disposal for some time. The infrastructure and technology for processing end-of-life batteries for recycling must catch up within that window.

What do you think is the best solution for the influx of end-of-life EV batteries? Do you think industries should focus on repurposing instead of recycling? Are there better alternatives for clean battery power?

FUSO GreenLab is always interested in outside collaboration. If you have an idea related to EV battery recycling, battery charging, or swapping solutions, please contact us. Our doors are always open.

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