Recycling lithium batteries
Raw Material Recovery
When a battery can no longer be used, either it is too degraded, it shows signs of physical damage, or if the format is simply not conducive to being re-used, it is time to send the battery to be recycled. There are different technologies that can recover the metals at different rates and grades, and for different costs. We favour the technologies that recover the most material as they are the most ecologically responsible. This involves a combination of two techniques called pyrometalurgy and hydrometalurgy. The use of heat, and baths to separate and purify the metals.
Proper recycling is not yet cost positive, and so there are costs involved for the person disposing of the battery. It can come as a bit of a surprise to someone or a company who finds themselves stuck with a battery with a negative value. It is therefore important to take into account the cost of recycling unusable material when you are considering acquiring EV batteries, or acquiring cars for recycling. On the flip side, sending batteries for reuse can be a way to minimize this liability as the processes will only become more efficient and less expensive with time.
Burying or incinerating the batteries instead of reusing and then properly recycling them is wholly unsustainable. It is estimated that 2 million metric tonnes of batteries will enter the EV market in 2030 alone, with that volume only growing for the following decade. It is imperative that we not squander the resources that went into making those batteries. Moreover, reusing the batteries before sending them to recycling reduces the environmental footprint of those batteries by approximately 50kg of CO2e per kWh of battery.