The transition to electric transport is being driven by the need to address important issues such as global warming. Consequently, it is vital that the maximum benefits of battery propulsion are utilised and that includes optimising activities throughout the whole life cycle of the batteries used in electric vehicles. From a sustainability perspective, one key contribution can be made by extracting as much use as possible from an EV battery before it reaches the end of its life and is recycled to make new batteries. This makes even more sense when the numbers of batteries becoming available is taken into account. It has been predicted that even by as soon as 2025 there will be around 3.4 million of these batteries available globally, and that by 2040 there will be approximately 560 million electric vehicles in existence.
HSSMI, leader of the VALUABLE project, has published a report on strategies for end of life battery recovery and why it is important to create a sustainable battery supply chain. The report is downloadable from their website (link at the bottom of the article).
The increased pressure to move away from fossil fuels and internal combustion engines is driving the mass introduction of electric vehicles (EV) and their associated, predominantly lithium-ion, batteries (LIBs). Due to their hazardous nature, batteries pose a challenge when they reach their end of life (EoL). With around 6 million batteries expected to retire from EVs globally in 2030, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must act sooner rather than later in preparation for this wave of responsibility. Nevertheless, as EV LIBs will retire from transport applications when they reach 70-80% capacity, there is still a tremendous opportunity for OEMs to cascade this value into new functions and eventually recover the valuable materials these batteries are made from.
With the limited numbers of electric vehicles (EV) that have been sold to date and the fact that their batteries can last for seven years or more, the environmental impacts of EV lithium-ion battery recycling have not yet become a pressing issue. Nevertheless, the overall environmental benefits of converting vehicles from internal combustion to battery power are widely publicised and the change-over is being mandated by legislation to help meet global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. While all of this is deemed to be good for the world and its inhabitants, it is less often considered that there can still be negative impacts associated with lithium-ion batteries. In terms of the environment, it is easy to think that the move from fossil fuels must undoubtedly offer major benefits and, in many areas it does, with the prospect of zero local emissions, improved air quality and the concomitant related health improvements being good examples.
On the afternoon of Monday, 6th July, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Applied Materials Chemistry Interest Group hosted a summer webinar entitled ‘Challenges in the Recycling of Lithium-ion Batteries’. The webinar’s aim was to discuss the current waste and recycling industry approach for batteries, share information on the latest research in lithium-ion battery recycling and to define challenges in the field for researchers to adopt in the pursuit of a greener future. The event began with an introduction and overview of the RSC’s Applied Materials Chemistry Group by Edward Randviir of Manchester Metropolitan University, who also chaired the event.
The importance of battery recycling has become increasingly appreciated in recent years, since battery uncontrolled disposal and consignment to landfill can lead to environmental issues and result in the loss of potentially valuable materials. With the world now well underway towards converting its transport from internal combustion to electrical power, the demand for battery recycling, repurposing and recovery is set to expand enormously over the next twenty years. This undoubtedly offers many significant opportunities, but it is also a potential source of problems that must be addressed if the full benefits of using batteries are to be realised. On the positive side, recycling can provide the raw materials required for making new batteries, thereby reducing demand from primary mining sources and the associated negative impacts. For example, there have long been concerns about the way cobalt is extracted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with its use of artisanal mining, unsafe and hazardous working conditions, and the use of child labour.