Updated: Apr 11
Sam Haig, our Battery Recycling Business Manager, discusses how EV battery manufacturers and recycling industries need to collaborate closely to make lithium-ion battery recycling safer, more efficient and sustainable.
“It is predicted that by 2040, 339,000* tonnes of Electric Vehicle batteries will reach end of life [*source: the University of Warwick’s, Automotive Lithium-ion Battery Recycling in the UK report]. That is a lot of batteries! There need to be robust recycling processes in place, so that high value metals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper can be extracted and materials can be recovered and reused in other processes.
The EU Battery Directive (adopted by the UK) is set on minimising the negative impact of batteries, accumulators and waste batteries on the environment. For all lithium-ion batteries, a minimum of 50% of their weight must be recycled at end of life. This means that there is a great opportunity for manufacturers, recyclers and specialist battery processing companies to work together to ensure that EV batteries can be easy, safely and efficiently recycled.
There are many manufacturers, such as Nissan and Volkswagen, which are already investing heavily in end-of-life battery re-use and recycling. This needs to happen too as there are much greater environmental and workplace risks associated with the dismantling of EVs than traditional petrol or diesel motors. These are high voltage batteries that can easily ignite during the dismantling process, leading to the release of highly toxic chemicals such as hydrogen fluoride.
What the industry really needs is a strong commitment to the use of safer, more sustainable materials and standardisation in the way batteries are produced and controlled. This would make a huge difference to the safety and efficiency of the whole process.
It starts with the battery pack, which should be designed in such a way that they can be easily dismantled at end of life. There has also been a call for an extension of the current International Dismantling Information System (IDIS) to cover batteries. This would mean the components and construction of batteries has to be made visible so end of life recycling can be standardised. This would make the whole process much easier and safer using approved practices throughout the industry.
It is still the case that many recyclers are sending batteries to Europe for end-of-life processing - but this is expensive and is not a sustainable way forward. As the number of used EV batteries grows, there needs to be a network of specialist companies, like ourselves, who are able to carry out safe and effective lithium-ion recycling in the UK.
As sustainability is such a hot topic, there is talk of a Battery Passport being introduced, where every element of the battery is recorded, therefore making it more traceable. Although this may be some way off, it would certainly go in the right direction to ensure that more sustainable batteries are being produced in the future.
What is certain now is that in 10-15 years’ time, there will be a lot of EV batteries hitting the recycling industry – and they need to be handled safely and sustainably.
There also needs to be open communication around second life battery use in order to make the repurposing of batteries easier. From each battery, we recover valuable materials including cathode powder, copper, and aluminium. These materials remain suitable for onward processing and will create compounds available for use in the manufacture of new batteries. Our process is safe, low energy and environmentally friendly.
Looking to the future, we believe that regulations should be developed further so a larger proportion of the battery can easily be recycled. The proposed recast of the EU Battery Directive is a step in the right direction and we hope that the UK will follow suit with similar ambitions.
With the right level of investment, backed by legislation and a commitment from the whole industry this will mean all EV batteries can be recycled in the UK in the very best, most sustainable way.”
For more information call 0114 244 8050.