image credits: Volkswagen
According to the International Energy Agency, the global stock of electric cars (EVs) might reach 245 million units by 2030.
While electric vehicles emit less CO2, their batteries are difficult to recycle. The mining of these raw materials, which are made of cobalt, lithium, and nickel, presents ethical and environmental concerns. This is due in part to the fact that lithium ion batteries can be expensive and difficult to recycle.
Metals from batteries can contaminate both water and soil once they are disposed of in landfills.
The creation of a circular supply chain by recycling the raw materials of batteries will be critical in lowering their environmental impact.
According to a recent article in the Wired, they stated, "while you can re-use most parts in EVs, the batteries aren’t designed to be recycled or reused.”
EV batteries are larger and heavier than ordinary automobile batteries, and they are made up of hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells, all of which must be dismantled. They contain hazardous ingredients and have a tendency of exploding if disassembled incorrectly.
Image Credits: Volkswagen
Although electric vehicles (EVs) lower emissions, the lithium-ion batteries that power them present a unique sustainability problem. Electric vehicles will be essential in lowering air pollution and achieving climate change goals. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that worldwide EV stock will need to rise by 36% per year to reach 245 million vehicles by 2030.
Recent European Union plans would hold EV providers accountable for ensuring that their goods aren't simply dumped at the end of their lives, and manufacturers are already stepping up to the mark.
• Nissan, for example, is currently repurposing outdated batteries from its Leaf cars in automated guided vehicles that carry parts to factory workers.
• Volkswagen is doing the same thing, but it has recently opened its first recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, with ambitions to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year during the pilot phase.
"As a result of the recycling process, many different materials are recovered. As a first step we focus on cathode metals like cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese," According to Thomas Tiedje, head of recycling planning at Volkswagen Group Components.
He also stated that "Dismantled parts of the battery systems such as aluminium and copper are given into established recycling streams."
• Meanwhile, Renault is recycling all of its electric car batteries, but this amounts to only a few hundred each year. It accomplishes this through a partnership with the French waste management company Veolia and the Belgian chemical giant Solvay.
"We are aiming at being able to address 25% of the recycling market. We want to maintain this level of coverage, and of course this would cover by far the needs of Renault," stated Jean-Philippe Hermine, Renault's Vice President of Strategic Environmental Planning.
He also stated that "It's a very open project - it's not to recycle only Renault batteries but all batteries, and also including production waste from the battery manufacturing plants."
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the volume of automotive battery capacity available for repurposing will increase by 560 percent by 2030. Batteries pose a significant waste-management concern due to their continually increasing consumption.
These gaps indicate a rising need for improved systems for manufacturing and disposing of batteries, as well as improved methods for preserving virgin materials.
Image Credits: Volkswagen
Here are the solutions offered by various organizations.
- Redwood Materials
Nevada-based Redwood Materials aspires to be the world's leading battery recycling firm. It also wants to establish a circular or "closed loop" supply chain by reclaiming, reusing, and recirculating raw materials such as cobalt, copper, and nickel from batteries at the end-of-life stage. Redwood combines Pyrometallurgy, which involves burning batteries to remove undesired organic materials and polymers, and Hydrometallurgy, which involves soaking lithium-ion cells in acids to dissolve the metals into a solution. The company aimed to recycle more than 1GWh of battery scrap materials by 2020.
Li-Cycle describes itself as a closed-loop lithium-ion resource recovery firm that, like Redwood Materials, aspires to develop EV batteries that are truly sustainable.
According to the Canadian business, 1.7 million tonnes of lithium-ion batteries will reach the end of their useful life by 2020. This figure is expected to climb to almost 15 million tonnes by 2030. By recovering more than 95 percent of the raw materials found in lithium-ion batteries, Li-Cycle contributes to the circular economy by avoiding the smelting process and relying solely on leaching.
Aceleron, a UK-based clean technology business, claims to have created the world's most sustainable lithium battery packs using revolutionary technologies. “The reason why we have such a challenge today with reusing a lot of batteries is actually that many of them were not made with the next stage of their life in mind,” Aceleron co-founder and CTO Carlton Cummings told The Telegraph. According to Cummings, making batteries that are easier to disassemble will encourage reuse and foster a circular ecology. It will also increase storage capacity because batteries can be recycled to help store electricity at EV charging stations.
- Faraday Institution
The issue is also attracting attention from scientific organisations such as the Faraday Institution, whose ReLiB initiative attempts to optimise and streamline the recycling of EV batteries.
The ReLiB team from Leicester and Birmingham developed a unique ultrasonic delamination technology that blasts the active components from the electrodes, leaving only virgin aluminium or copper. This method was shown to be quite effective in extracting graphite and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, abbreviated as NMC. The new technology, which employs ultrasonic waves to remove precious material from electrodes, is 100 times faster, greener, and results in higher purity of recovered materials than previous methods.
Materials recovered using the technology were found to be purer, and hence more valuable, than those recovered using traditional recycling methods, and they may be easier to use in the development of new electrodes. The method is quick and adapts technology that is widely used in the food preparation business.
Concentrated acids are used in a batch immersion procedure in current delamination recycling processes. The new ultrasonic approach is a continuous-feed process that uses water or dilute acids as a solvent, making it more environmentally friendly and less expensive to operate. It can delaminate 100 times the amount of electrode material in the same amount of time and volume as existing batch delamination techniques.
Image credits: Volkswagen
- ReCell Center
The ReCell Center of the US Department of Energy is a collaboration of academia, industry, and national laboratories working towards improvement of lithium-ion recycling processes. Its goal is to make battery recycling profitable by recovering high-value materials and devising systems to maximise yield, productivity, and cost. The ReCell Center also expects that adopting science-based solutions to generate cost-effective lithium-battery recycling will minimise waste, create jobs, and reduce the United States' dependency on foreign raw material suppliers.
- Global Battery Alliance
The World Economic Forum's Global Battery Alliance (GBA) is a public-private partnership of organisations that contend that a circular battery value chain is necessary to meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5C climate target in the transportation and power sectors. The GBA also believes that batteries might enable 30 percent of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the two industries to meet the Paris Agreement's 2° target. They could potentially offer electricity to 600 million people and create 10 million sustainable jobs globally by 2030.