Market Outlook for Recycling Battery Materials

Electric Vehicles- Battery Materials Recycling

Battery material recycling, as the name suggests, is a technology used to recover rare metals from batteries. The technology optimizes cost and minimizes hazardous waste by procuring the target metal through physical and chemical separation. The derived material can be processed and resold in the market, increasing the usefulness of the metal.

The growth in the electric vehicles market is one of the major drivers of the battery material recycling vertical. The increase in the use and adoption of EVs has led to the subsequent growth in the lithium-ion battery market. With the growth of the EVs market, the amount of spent lithium-ion batteries is also increasing. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to develop technologies to extend the useful life of battery materials.

Market Trend for Recycling Battery Materials

By 2020, China generated 500,000 metric tons of used Li-ion batteries. The global number of spent lithium-ion batteries is expected to reach a value of about 2 million metric tons per year by the year 2030. Currently, many end-users are disposing of these batteries in public landfills which cause ecological imbalance. Although technologies exist within the market for recycling battery materials, this method is not widely used among industry players. For example, in Australia, about 2-3% of spent lithium-ion batteries are collected and shipped offshore for recycling. Developed economies such as the European Union and the United States have a recycling rate of less than 5% for lithium-ion batteries.

The unpopularity of these sustainable routes stems from the economic and logistical issues associated with the battery material recycling process. Technical constraints and regulatory factors further limit the growth of this market.

How the battery material recycling market affects the supply chain

Combat is one of the major materials used to manufacture Li-ion batteries. As reported in a CSIRO report, about 50% of the world’s cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Materials are obtained through armed conflicts, illegal mining operations, human rights abuses and harmful environmental practices. Recycling of batteries and cathode preparation will reduce the supply chain’s dependence on such problematic sources. Hence the security of the supply chain can be maintained through this initiative.

Battery Material Recycling Process:

Most batteries that undergo recycling use a high temperature melting and extraction process also known as smelting. This technology is used in commercial facilities in regions such as Asia, Europe and Canada. The process is highly energy and cost-intensive. In addition, the percentage recovery associated with this technique is low. Thus the overall adaptability of the process in terms of cost and technology constraints acts as a major constraint for this scope.

Battery material recycling is a specific area of ​​study carried out in small groups and educational institutions. Startups are trying to develop new and improved industrial processes to further optimize recovery rates for recycling raw materials. The aging electric vehicle is expected to be one of the major sources of batteries. To deal with this ongoing problem, large multi-dimensional campaigns are being run on an industrial scale.

An upcoming method that is currently being industrialized is a combination of hydrometallurgical and mechanical technologies. On an industrial scale, this method uses a low CO2 process to recover battery materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese. Recycled materials can be used to make new batteries. The low CO2 hydrometallurgical process is a sustainable technology that addresses the process limitations faced by industry when conventional methods are applied. This technique has a recovery percentage of about 80%.

The following CO2 method was carried out by studying trade-offs with the conventional smelting process. The process has a low carbon footprint which allows industries to achieve sustainable goals.

The technology uses chemical means of separation to obtain the target material. A lithium-ion battery is disassembled, after which the black mass of the battery is treated by hydrometallurgical methods. The methodology employed involves the precipitation of the material needed to recover it. The technology allows rare minerals to be recovered and distributed to battery manufacturers.

A global initiative was taken to boost the battery raw material recycling market.

By January 2021, the US Department of Energy announced the construction of DOE’s first Li-ion battery recycling R&D center. Establishment is also known as resale center. The R&D center aims to make the battery raw material recycling market both competitive and profitable. The establishment of this center is expected to reduce America’s dependence on foreign sources of cobalt and other battery materials. ReSell was launched with an initial investment of USD 15 million.

Another initiative launched by DOE is the launch of Battery Recycling Rewards. The program is a US$5.5 million initiative which is expected to support start-ups and technology developers looking for opportunities within this market. The launch of this initiative is also expected to increase the number of unicorns present around the world.

The UK is another country looking to gain a foothold within the battery material recycling market. Britain has formed a large consortium led by the University of Birmingham.

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