Lithium Ion Battery Recycling

There has been quite a lot of dialogue from college students and instructors on SEI’s campus concerning lithium battery recycling. SEI’s Lab Manager and Instructor, Alex Jahp, was capable of put collectively some info for our college students and employees on the subject. Alex started his solar profession with SEI programs in 2015 and now, because the Paonia Lab Manager, all of us profit from his continuous studying and considerate engagement with solar expertise. This temporary overview of the state of lithium (Li-ion) battery recycling, processes, and boundaries to scaling will hopefully result in extra dialogue of sustainability in solar and an improved understanding of how you can handle the exponential affect of the human species.

Source: ReCell Center

State of Lithium Recycling

Li-ion battery recycling is vitally essential to reduce mining within the energy transition and make sure the satisfactory availability of supplies sooner or later. Much has been manufactured from how the transition to renewable energy isn’t inexperienced as a result of it is going to require substantial mining to produce the minerals to supply PV modules, batteries, wind generators, and so forth. Concerns about buying and selling one unsustainable habits for an additional, i.e. fossil gas extraction for uncommon earth mining, are reliable, however the quantity of supplies wanted and disruption required for renewable energy manufacturing pales as compared per unit of energy produced in contrast with fossil gas combustion. Coal power manufacturing requires 2,000 occasions extra materials enter by weight than solar technology to supply the identical quantity of energy1.

Currently, lower than 1% of lithium that’s utilized in batteries is recycled and consequently, lower than 1% is included in new products2. Historically, the principle goal of Li-ion battery recycling has been the restoration of cobalt, due to its excessive worth. Everything else has been secondary. There is a variety of Li-ion battery recycling processes with various outcomes. Process parts will be mixed in several methods, relying on components like amount and traits of the fabric out there, and the worth of the supplies that may be recovered3.

Pyro Process Recycling (smelting) – lowest price of fabric recycling
Pyrometallurgy makes use of excessive temperatures to facilitate the oxidation and discount reactions by which transition metals like Co and Ni are lowered from oxides to metals, and recovered in a blended metallic alloy. The metals can then be separated (by hydrometallurgy) and used to make new cathode materials. Other supplies together with aluminum, anode, and electrolyte are oxidized within the smelter, supplying gas for the method. The aluminum and lithium oxides find yourself within the slag and should not usually recovered3. While efficient, this technique sometimes solely recovers 40 to 50 p.c of the supplies, excluding the graphite, aluminum, lithium, and plastic additionally present in batteries4.

Hydro Process Recycling (leaching) – medium price of fabric recycling
Hydrometallurgy makes use of acids to dissolve the ions out of a strong just like the cathode, producing a mix of ionic species within the answer. These will be recovered by precipitation or solvent extraction and reacted with different recovered supplies to supply new cathode material3. This course of can be utilized to get better roughly 80-100% of supplies when mixed with direct recycling4.


Direct Recycling (bodily deconstruction) – highest price of fabric recycling
Direct recycling separates the completely different parts of the black mass (lively materials powder from the shredding of cells) by bodily processes, like gravity separation, which get better separated supplies with out inflicting chemical modifications, enabling the restoration of cathode materials that’s reusable with minimal remedy.


Recycling Li-ion Batteries in North America

There is lots to be explored right here. Simply stating that recycling amenities exist doesn’t imply that the issue is being correctly addressed by the federal government or the non-public sector. There are many questions to contemplate: Are these amenities accessible for individuals working in small-scale energy storage or simply large-scale Electric Vehicle (EV) producers or utility storage?  What is the price of recycling a battery? How can we ship used Li-ion batteries? What is the price of delivery? Is there any worth returned to the particular person bringing within the battery? Can a facility deal with all chemistries and codecs?

Starting from the Beginning

The EPA recommends the next for recycling EV and Energy Storage (ES) batteries5:

  • Automobile: Contact the car seller, store or salvage yard the place the battery was bought.
  • Energy Storage: Contact the energy storage gear producer or firm that put in the battery

Where may these batteries find yourself? According to USGS, about 25 firms in North America and Europe recycle Li-ion batteries or plan to do so6. Here are a couple of such firms:

Redwood Materials can course of 6 GWh of end-of-life batteries, sufficient to construct greater than 60,000 EVs, annually. This amount represents nearly all of the Li-ion batteries recycled in North America at the moment, and Redwood is ramping up their capability in preparation for bigger battery volumes as the primary wave of EVs retire. Redwood recovers greater than 95 p.c of the metals (together with nickel, cobalt, lithium, and copper) from these batteries and makes use of the metals to remanufacture anode and cathode parts. Redwood then provides these parts again to U.S. battery cell producers with out the metals ever leaving the nation. By 2025, Redwood Materials will ramp up copper foil anode and cathode manufacturing to 100 GWh yearly – sufficient for 1 million EVs a 12 months – representing the primary time these vital supplies have been manufactured within the U.S.

Li-Cycle is a Canadian lithium recycling firm working within the US with places in New York and Arizona that may deal with bigger batteries together with EV batteries. Li-Cycle states:

  • All chemistries and codecs of lithium-ion batteries are appropriate for our expertise
  • Recover as much as 95% of all constituent supplies present in lithium-ion batteries.
  • No manufacturing of landfill waste throughout the course of.

Ascend Elements is at the moment constructing what’s anticipated to be the most important Li-ion battery recycling facility within the U.S. Located in Georgia, the power plans to return 100% of battery lively supplies again into the provision chain.

Barriers to Li-ion Battery Recycling

Barriers to recycling exist on each the first materials provide chain aspect and the recycling provide chain aspect. It looks as if the most important points are creating the waste diversion infrastructure and constructing amenities that may recycle materials of adequate high quality for use in new merchandise; thus, closing the loop. Regulation is probably going wanted to make this occur.

Source: “Sustainability and Second Life: The case for cobalt and lithium recycling,” (Church & Wuennenberg, 2019)

Recommendations to Remove Barriers and Promote Li-ion Battery Recycling

Study the graphic under to see all of the methods to take away boundaries and promote li-ion battery recycling.

Source: “Sustainability and Second Life: The case for cobalt and lithium recycling,” (Church & Wuennenberg, 2019)

In the Meantime…

Solar Forward endorses the adage, “reduce, then produce,” as a result of it promotes probably the most cost-effective and cheap measure for planning a swap to renewable technology: minimizing energy depth. The most resonant a part of this analysis and the continued Li-ion battery dialogue amongst SEI’s school is about effectivity, life-style modifications, and whether or not changing a combustion engine with an electrical car actually solves the issue of sustainability writ giant.

It is entrenched doctrine in some circles of the renewable energy transition that batteries are the best way and the sunshine for making the swap from combustion. The push to impress every little thing is laboring below the notion that the brand new load shall be changed with renewable energy as fossil gas power is retired. How rapidly and effectively we will obtain that renewable energy deployment is the brand new purpose line. It is just one aspect of the problem with which individuals, societies grapple: As we discover methods to interrupt with previous paradigms, are we buying and selling them for extra nuanced variations of exploitation as a substitute of assessing life-style modifications that will negate a purchase order within the first place?

Do you could have a Li-ion battery you need to recycle? Let us understand how you do it, who do you name? Where do you ship it and at what value?

Do you’re employed within the Li-ion battery business? What do you advocate people do with their Li-ion batteries on the end-of-life stage?

If you’re a Solar Forward group associate, please share your ideas on Li-ion battery recycling within the Resource Center Cyber Cafe. If you aren’t but a Solar Forward group associate, then please attain out to [email protected] to search out out extra.




1 Bond, Ok. (2021, May 10). Mineral constraints for transition overstated by IEA. Carbon Tracker Initiative.

2 Hund, Ok., La Porta, D., Fabregas, T. P., Laing, T., & Drexhage, J. (2020). Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition. World Bank Group.

3 Gaines, L. (2018). Lithium-ion battery recycling processes: Research in direction of a sustainable course. 17(C).

4 Church, C., & Wuennenberg, L. (2019). Sustainability and Second Life: The case for cobalt and lithium recycling. 68.

5 US EPA, O. (2019, May 16). Used Lithium-Ion Batteries [Overviews and Factsheets].

6 USGS. (2022). Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022 (p. 206). U.S. Geological Survey.


Further Reading

Dominish, E., Florin, N., & Wakefield-Rann, R. (2021). Reducing new mining for electrical car battery metals: Responsible sourcing by means of demand discount methods and recycling. Institute for Sustainable Futures.

  • Explores the essential position that demand discount methods and recycling can play in decreasing the quantity of mining required to deploy energy storage applied sciences.

Evergreen, S. (2022, April 19). Lithium prices some huge cash—So why aren’t we recycling lithium batteries? Ars Technica.

  • An incredible abstract of the challenges that exist for lithium battery recycling.

Pilot, O. (n.d.). Can We Get Clean Energy Without Dirty Mines? Retrieved September 9, 2022.

  • A dialogue on the truth of mining, recycling, and provide chains associated to the energy transition with Morgan Bazilian.

Spector, J. (2021, October 18). Used EV batteries are storing solar power at grid scale—And making a living at it. Canary Media.

  • An article from Canary Media about an organization repurposing used Nissan Leaf batteries for energy storage, since they could be faraway from autos when they’re at 80 p.c of the unique capability.

U.S. Department of Energy. (n.d.). ReCell Center. Retrieved September 9, 2022.

  • A nationwide collaboration of business, academia and nationwide laboratories working collectively to advance recycling applied sciences alongside the whole battery life-cycle for present and future battery chemistries.

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