Demand for lithium-ion (li-ion) battery recycling services is accelerating, and new technologies are emerging to satisfy the need, according to a study from Boston-based Lux Research, released Thursday.
The study examines how recyclers, battery manufacturers, and automotive companies are addressing existing infrastructure capacity challenges to build opportunities for recycling li-ion batteries. It also echoes efforts among the logistics industry to address those needs; lithium-ion forklift battery and equipment makers have been ramping up recycling programs recently in response to growing demand for the equipment throughout the industry.
The report examines the overall li-ion recycling market, and shows that demand for a local li-ion battery recycling industry is growing quickly. By the end of 2020, more than 100,000 tons of batteries reached their end of life, and by 2030 that number is expected to grow to more than 1 million tons, according to the report. The existing li-ion battery recycling infrastructure can’t handle those end-of-life needs or meet the materials demands for new batteries as electrification ramps up, the report’s authors said.
The report set out to identify the technologies and strategies the li-ion battery industry is using to address the problem. Companies are focused on increasing the recovery rates for recycled battery materials, which until recently were very low, and finding ways to make recycling more cost effective. Among the study’s findings:
New technologies will build effective battery recycling streams. Although battery recycling is not a new technology, there is considerable innovation occurring in the li-ion market. Developers are concentrating on increasing the recovery rates of battery materials, especially of higher purity materials to maximize the value of recycled products, they said.
Utilizing and scaling new recycling technologies is a must. Each new recycling technology will require its own path to market. Companies developing recycling processes must consider which chemistries can be recycled and what the resulting product will be, they said.
Developing strategies and partnerships. Companies eager to join the battery recycling industry have multiple possibilities for entry, according to the researchers. And partnerships are crucial for all players along the battery value chain, they said.
Recycling rates for li-ion batteries have been low historically, because it can be difficult to extract the valuable elements from the product. But new technologies are yielding improvements, with some recyclers claiming very high recovery rates, according to Lux Research.
“The driving factors for recycling development are numerous,” Abhirabh Basu, Analyst at Lux Research and lead author of the report, said in a statement announcing the findings. “Policy is emerging as an important safeguard against environmental hazards associated with battery disposal, economic development of recycling will benefit almost all players along the battery value chain, and technology for [li-ion] battery recycling has improved to the point that recyclers claim recovery rates upward of 98%.”