The issue of battery recycling only recently came to light in the media as more and more attention is being paid to electric vehicles. Their batteries would add a substantial load to lithium-ion and other types of batteries that need to be recycled every year. Now, this market is set for a real boom.
A recent Research and Markets report estimated the global battery recycling market is set for a growth of US$4.4 billion by 2025, at a compound annual rate of 5.9 percent. China will again lead the way, with the recycling market rising by a CAGR of 8.5 percent over the next couple of years. The United States is set to record a pretty robust market growth, too, at 5 percent over the six years to 2025.
While battery recycling presents new business opportunities, the growth in this segment of the recycling industry has been hindered by low recycling rates. Yet a couple of recent news stories suggest researchers are looking into the problem and finding solutions.
Earlier this year, a Finnish company said it had succeeded in boosting the recycling rate of lithium-ion batteries to as much as 80 percent. That compares with a current average of 50 percent.
“There are very few working, economically viable technologies for recycling the majority of materials in lithium-ion batteries. We saw a challenge that was not yet solved and developed a scalable recycling solution for all industries using batteries,” said the vice president of the company, Fortum Recycling and Waste.
Indeed, there are few working recycling technologies for batteries and this is one of the reasons for assumptions that the world does not recycle a lot of batteries and this could cause a major headache in the future. Yet, it turns out this is a bit too pessimistic.
A UK consultancy, Circular Energy Storage, recently reported, as quoted by Recycling International, that it had discovered significantly higher recycling rates than what is generally assumed. In 2018, the firm said, more than 97,000 tons of batteries were recycled globally. Some 1 GWh of battery capacity was reused as backup energy storage and in portable devices.
“We know from our data (based on input from 50+ leading battery recyclers worldwide) that almost 100 000 tonnes of waste batteries were recycled last year. That’s about 50% of the volume that reached end-of-life,” said the director of Circular Energy Storage, Hans Eric Melin. To compare, most media reports assume a recycling rate of between 2 and 7 percent.
Most of the batteries recycled last year globally were recycled in China, which happens to be the world’s largest single EV market. Now, it is preparing for the EV boom by planning a string of battery recycling facilities. According to local estimates, the battery recycling market in the country could hit US$824 million this year and grow to US$1.56 billion in 2020, with between 120,000 and 200,000 tons of accumulated EV battery waste available for recycling.
Tesla, meanwhile, is working on boosting the recovery rates of battery components, mostly critical metals such as cobalt and lithium. The company said in its 2018 Impact Report that it had developed a recycling system that recovers most of these metals from a battery that has reached the end of its life.
It seems all the conditions needed for a burgeoning market are there. As the number of battery-powered devices—and cars—increases, so will the future load of battery waste. Preparing for this load—and the revenue opportunities it presents—is the sensible thing to do.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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