Are EV Batteries Recyclable?
The battery in your electric vehicle (EV) is a type of Li-ion battery that can be recycled. But, like any other recycling process, it requires a facility that can handle large quantities of materials. As the number of EVs on the road continues to increase, so too will the need for these facilities. In this article we'll explore how batteries are recycled and what challenges exist and might get in the way of widespread adoption of EV batteries as a source material for recycling.
In North America, there is no widely-adopted recycling program for EV batteries. In fact, there are some recycling programs that are in place but not enough to meet the needs of everyone who owns a battery-powered car. The recycling industry needs to be developed further before EV batteries can be recycled by the masses.
According to the International Energy Agency's global EV development plan, demand for batteries will grow by 17x between 2019 and 2030. Lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and graphite are the primary raw materials used in their production. These materials, if overexploited, can deplete and pollute the environment. As a result, if not handled properly, material extraction and battery assembly will have serious consequences for our planet.
The battery recycling market is growing and becoming more organized. There are a couple of different recycling processes that have been developed by companies, such as Umicore, who have developed the technology to recover lithium from EV batteries. One of the primary goals of these companies is to reduce the amount of waste in landfills while recovering valuable materials at the same time.
We can expect that this trend will continue as demand for EVs increases over time—and hopefully in response, we’ll see even more opportunities for innovative ways to recycle their components!
How Are Batteries Recycled?
Batteries are recycled in one of two ways. The first is by recycling the materials that make up the battery, like cobalt, lithium and nickel. All these materials can be reused for other purposes. The second way to recycle batteries is to recycle them as a whole, which means reusing them for another purpose.
Sumitomo Metal, a Japanese company, has discovered a new way to reuse the majority of the components from discarded EV batteries. They recover copper, nickel, cobalt, and lithium by grinding EV batteries and heating the resulting powder at the correct temperature with controlled oxygen levels. This is the world's first process for recycling EV batteries.
Sumitomo Metal Mining Company now proposes to supply limited quantities of crushed batteries and employ recovered materials for in-house cathode manufacturing to confirm the quality of the post-recycled materials compared to alternatives produced at a reasonable cost and commercial volume.
In addition, by 2023, Sumitomo Metal will deploy a dedicated LIB recycling facility in Japan which can process 7,000 tons of crushed batteries per year, supplying the market with 200 tons of cobalt from batteries with nickel, manganese cathode, and cobalt. This development contributes to the supply of these resources within Japan.
This is a method of dissolving metals into a solution by immersing lithium-ion cells in strong acids. When using this method, more materials are obtained, especially the lithium part of the battery.
To accomplish this, the battery must first be disassembled and broken into many small pieces by large machinery. Following the completion of the shredding, the ingredients will be sieved and separated based on size. This helps to divide them into three different categories: ferrous metals, plastics, and non-ferrous metals. Using hydrometallurgy, recyclers can individually recover each material in the non-ferrous metals, including: cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese.
This is a common method in the metal industry because the same process is used to extract material from ore after mining. Some companies in the US, in particular, use a variant of this technology to recycle Li-ion, with material recovery rates ranging to 98%. This procedure, however, requires a basic pre-treatment step, such as removing the plastic cover. This raises the cost and complexity.
This is the most commonly used method, using combustion heat to remove unnecessary parts such as organic materials and plastics. This approach, however, only helps to recycle a tiny portion of the original material, such as copper, nickel, and cobalt, and does not separate lithium or aluminum. Furthermore, the metallurgical process releases a lot of SO2, CO, CO2, and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
The European Union proposed legislation in 2021 that would require EV batteries to contain at least 12% recycled cobalt and 4% recycled lithium and nickel by 2030. This strategy not only helps to prevent environmental pollution caused by metal mining, but it also lowers the cost of EVs, making the usage of electric energy more widespread.
EV batteries can be recycled, but the process needs to be further developed in order to handle large scale EV adoption. Thousands of lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars are at risk of being discarded as EVs become a well-received green vehicle alternative. As a result, battery recycling is a cost-effective solution that promotes second-time battery use while also protecting the environment.
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