Electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling refers to collecting, processing, and making end-of-life batteries reusable while reducing the number of batteries going to landfills. It is well known that sustainable battery materials hold the promise of a greener tomorrow.
The battery recycling process keeps the end-of-life batteries out of landfills and ensures a reliable harvest of valuable raw materials for battery manufacturing. Furthermore, recycling batteries reduces the dependence on virgin mining materials and makes an EV more affordable and sustainable.
As EV adoption is growing due to government mandates, surging gas prices, technological advancements and other factors, we are seeing unprecedented growth in the EV market. In the future, this will present a problem of too many EV batteries deserving a responsible place to go.
Why is the attention shifting toward EV battery recycling? What makes it difficult to recycle batteries? How is the EV battery recycling space evolving? Keep reading to learn more.
The Focus is Back on EV Battery Recycling
The once overlooked domain is now stealing the limelight. Interest in EV battery recycling is intensifying to avoid raw material shortages and fortify the EV supply chain for the single-most expensive component—the electric car battery.
The Spike in Demand vs. A Constrained Supply of Battery Metals
While the EV battery recycling market is projected to grow to USD 5.30 billion in 2026 at a CAGR of 31.6%, it is estimated that the EV transition will result in 11 million tons of spent lithium-ion batteries becoming battery scrap by 2030.
The mass production of electric vehicle batteries presents an equally enormous challenge of recycling millions of tons of lithium-ion batteries.
Evonik’s lithium recycling expert, Dr. Elisabeth Gorman, explains thatthe recycling rate for lithium is less than 5 percent at present.
Earlier, people were concerned that the EV batteries would not last long. However, with EV batteries lasting longer than expected (possibly outliving the vehicles) and even having a worthwhile second life, we need to ensure that battery recycling capacity matches the influx of end-of-life batteries.
With many automakers providing a 6- to 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries, the batteries may not be ready yet to be recycled in large volumes, which explains why the possibility of the automotive industry facing a critical shortage of raw materials is real.
In short, the availability of large volumes of recyclable materials is a problem because of the limited number of recyclable EV batteries.
Recycled Batteries: The Key to Sustainable EV Manufacturing
Battery recycling is an efficient and eco-friendly alternative to the primary extraction of raw materials. A research study shows that over half of the cobalt, lithium, and nickel in new batteries could come from recycled materials by 2040.
EV raw material cost makes up around 60% of the total manufacturing cost of an EV battery. Recycling the electric car after 20 years and reusing the battery is considered more viable than getting a new one.
Are recycled batteries the key to sustainable EV manufacturing? Most likely.
As the access to strategic battery elements is not available in many countries, the recovery of scarce raw materials is all the more important from recycled old EV batteries, which are a predominant secondary source of critical materials.
Apart from lithium-ion batteries, lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, and nickel-metal hydride are other rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles.
Some of the recyclable battery chemistries include:
- Lead Acid
- Lithium Ion
- Lithium Iron Phosphate
- Nickel Iron
- Telecom Lead Acid
- Wet & Dry Nickel Cadmium
- Wet & Dry Nickel Metal Hydride
Battery waste management is essential for properly handling and treating lithium-ion batteries—the most widely used electric car batteries. End-of-service/retired EV batteries constitute a serious waste management challenge for recyclers.
Certain mandates like the extended producer responsibility (EPR) require battery manufacturers to collect, store, transport, recycle, and dispose of used batteries. Ultimately, a battery recycling system’s success depends on efficient infrastructure to collect, store, and recycle battery waste.
The Importance of EV Battery Reuse, Refurbishing, and Repurposing
The circular lithium-ion battery economy is a sustainable battery economy focusing on EV battery reuse and recycling. Generally, end-of-life EV batteries can be reused, refurbished, and repurposed before recycling to make the most of their usable capacity.
Reuse helps in fully exploiting an electric car battery. After the electric car moves past its “reuse potential,” it is deemed good enough for repurposing.
Refurbishing and Repurposing
It is possible to refurbish or directly repurpose second-life batteries (2LBs). Refurbishing involves replacing old or damaged battery parts before re-selling the batteries as “semi-new.”
Repurposing used EV batteries for less-demanding applications like stationary energy storage is more cost effective than refurbishing, which requires substantial labor, resources, and time.
Once the energy-generating capability of an EV battery reaches 70-80% of its original capacity, it tends to lose its ability to provide the expected range.
Nonetheless, such batteries can be repurposed for large-scale deployment in electrical grids, renewable energy storage (such as wind and solar), and other applications like flood warning signs in road warning systems.
- A battery with less than 70% lifespan is typically reused as an energy storage system (ESS) battery for residential and commercial use.
- Multiple EV batteries can be used in large energy storage devices to store electricity and stabilize the power grid.
- Nissan’s retired EV batteries provide backup power to the globally renowned Amsterdam ArenA (now known as the “Johan Cruijff ArenA), which is also home to Ajax football club.
Is repurposing EV batteries easy? Achieving standardization across global manufacturers is challenging because a battery pack may vary in mechanical and chemical complexities.
EV Battery Recycling Regulations
Legislation is necessary to set realistic goals for battery recycling, given the pressing need to reuse battery raw materials in the production cycle.
Various battery reuse and recycling regulations are in place to encourage domestic sourcing of battery materials and the production of batteries.
The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) requires North America and areas signed with the U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to be the mining and processing hub of more than 40% of the battery’s core minerals.
Battery recycling minimizes reliance on foreign suppliers/imports and opens up fresh economic prospects for local battery makers.
A bill in this regard is the Strategic EV Management Act, which aims to maximize EV battery recycling and reuse for federal fleet vehicles.
Battery recycling is a well-established industry in China. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China accounts for more than half of lithium, cobalt, and graphite processing and refining capacity. Other countries are stepping up their efforts to promote the domestic recycling industry.
How EV Battery Recycling Works
EV battery recycling is neither cheap nor easy. Moreover, the recycling process is labor- and resource-intensive with intricate recycling logistics.
Generally, recycling involves the separation of battery materials, such as aluminum, cobalt and lithium salts, copper, and stainless steel.
Most recycling processes fall under the “reagent recovery” category, wherein the materials (with reasonable purity) can be reused for the resynthesis of the original cathode materials and other applications.
EV batteries include over 2,000 individual lithium-ion battery cells, with the composition and size of Li-ion batteries varying from vehicle to vehicle. Commercial-scale recycling systems can recycle thousands of batteries.
Current battery pack designs are not ideal for deconstruction, either by hand or machine—it is not easy to dismantle large lithium-ion battery packs with dozens of components and highly varied designs.
Therefore, commercial cell-breaking processes (physical) use milling or shredding with subsequent sorting of the component materials—large machinery is used to disassemble and shred lithium-ion batteries.
Different companies use various methods to recycle batteries. However, the basic step is to make the battery inert to avoid any fires or injuries. The next step after shredding is to sift/sieve and separate materials (based on size) into the following categories:
- Ferrous materials
- Non-ferrous materials (Also known as “black mass” that contains critical minerals, such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel)
EV Battery Recycling Processes
Pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processes: A few battery recycling companies are into LIB recycling, using pyrometallurgical (smelting) and hydrometallurgical (leaching) processes.
LIB recycling makes them suitable for reuse in producing new batteries with up to 95% material recovery rate and up to 99% purity of the recovered materials.
Electrochemical process: The specialty chemicals company, Evonik, is testing a high-efficiency electrochemical process with a ceramic membrane for lithium recycling—the company plans to create the pilot modules in 2023 and larger-scale modules in 2024.
Lithium-ion battery recycling process: The lithium-ion battery recycling process includes collecting expired or spare batteries and deactivating them before disassembling and treating the batteries during a mechanical process.
In addition, the hydrometallurgical process (leaching) uses hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid and directly recovers metals, such as Co, Li, Mn, and Ni.
Direct recycling: Direct recycling avoids expensive and lengthy purification steps and involves removing the electrode’s anode or cathode material for reconditioning and reuse in a remanufactured LIB.
Moreover, direct recycling of materials from spent lithium-ion batteries minimizes energy use and waste by eliminating mining and processing steps.
Battery recycling is an integral part of end-of-life EV battery management.
Currently, the EV battery supply chain is a complicated network that contributes heavily to the overall cost and carbon footprint.
Recycling EV batteries creates a closed-loop system in which affordable and sustainable battery materials can be fed back into the energy cycle.
Safe Disposal of Batteries
Once EV batteries are no longer recyclable, they are ready for safe disposal. However, car batteries must be recycled appropriately instead of thrown in the trash or a dumpster. For example, Battery Recyclers of America provides recycling proposals for large volumes (60 or more) of car batteries.
Hazardous material always poses many risks when handled or disposed of carelessly. For example, dumping spent lithium-ion batteries in landfills or metal recovery facilities may cause the batteries to leach toxic metals into groundwater or spontaneously ignite and explode.
As battery recycling falls under “hazardous waste,” waste management regulations govern the handling, storage, transportation, processing, recycling, and disposal of batteries.
Benefits of EV Battery Recycling
Battery recycling provides economic, environmental, and strategic benefits. In addition, it helps in keeping hazardous materials from entering the waste stream at the end of a battery’s useful life and during the production phase.
EV battery recycling plays a crucial role in:
- Cutting down the need for harmful mining practices (for sourcing lithium and other minerals)
- Ensuring long-term lithium supply
- Minimizing the amount of mining necessary for EV production
- Recapturing usable quantities of metals at a lower cost than mining
- Reducing battery-manufacturing emissions and primary resource requirements
- Reducing the environmental impact of hazardous waste
- Strengthening domestic manufacturing (using local, recycled battery materials)
- Supporting the global energy transition (environmentally friendly recycling)
Typically, batteries received at collection centers are transported to authorized battery recycling facilities for further processing.
Lithium-ion recycling companies like Attero handle recalled battery packs apart from discarded batteries. As over 50% of lithium-ion battery scrap is recyclable, it can be reused to produce new lithium-ion batteries.
Opportunities in EV Battery Recycling
As the decrease in battery capacity and performance after charge cycles does not affect the extraction and reuse of the core raw materials like nickel and lithium, “waste battery recycling” is growing at a rapid pace.
Several companies are investing in EV battery recycling and research that centers around efficient and economical recycling of EV batteries.
According to Wesley Zheng, the co-founder of Posh, a startup for EV battery recycling automation,Battery production is 100% automated, but battery recycling is 100% manual.
Automating the battery recycling process is an opportunity for battery technology startups and battery recycling companies to gain ground and set the direction for future partnerships and investments. Furthermore, financial incentives are helpful in encouraging LIB recycling investments.
The opportunities in recycling have brought together automakers, battery manufacturers, battery recyclers, OEMs, policymakers, and many more.
It is, therefore, not surprising that automotive manufacturers and battery reuse and recycling companies are leveraging industrial synergies for EV battery recycling innovation.
EV Battery Recycling R&D
EV battery recycling technology and infrastructure are evolving to improve safety, sustainability, and the recovery rate. EV battery recycling R&D, in particular, is focused on decreasing the costs and increasing the yields of recycling EV batteries.
Ascend Elements, Redwood Materials, and other battery recycling companies are preparing to meet the demand for EV battery units with increased recycling capacity and strategic industry partnerships.
Ascend Elements, a lithium-ion battery recycling and engineered materials company, patented a recycling process to extract valuable EV metals and create a battery cathode that can be customized to an EV manufacturer’s specific requirements. The recycling process also resulted in 93% lower carbon emissions at around half the cost of newly mined metals.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s ReCell Center is an advanced battery recycling R&D center based at Argonne National Laboratory. The center aims to reduce reliance on foreign sources of battery materials and use novel recycling technologies for cost-effective and less energy-intensive battery recycling.
EV Battery Recycling Industry Partnerships
Let us look at a couple of EV battery industry partnerships:
Ford signed a deal with Redwood Materials to recycle EV batteries. Redwood Materials has not only partnered with various automakers to collect and recycle end-of-life EV batteries but is also a promising manufacturer of battery components with recovered materials.
Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) and UL (a global safety certification company) are collaborating to strengthen the safety of the second-life battery energy storage system (SLBESS) for electric vehicles.
Growth Drivers of the EV Battery Recycling Market
The global EV battery recycling market applications include electric bikes, electric buses, electric cars, electric scooters, energy storage systems, and others (such as data centers/UPI, industrial automation, and telecom).
Battery recycling funding and initiatives led to the lithium-ion battery recycling sector’s measurable growth in recent years.
Additionally, the surging demand for recycled materials and sales of electric vehicles are expected to grow the EV battery recycling market in the years ahead.
Blackridge Research & Consulting’s Global Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Market report provides a comprehensive market analysis and offers deep insights into the competitive landscape, growth drivers, key company profiles, market statistics and trends, top developments, and more.
Want a customized report? Get in touch with a research specialist today!
Challenges in EV Battery Recycling
The primary factors affecting EV production include material shortage, soaring raw material prices, geopolitical trade tensions, and supply chain bottlenecks.
However, scaling up mining operations to satisfy the surge in demand is difficult because it takes 16.5 years on average for a mine to make the planning-to-production transition.
Moreover, the supply chain is vulnerable to disruptions and volatility as most minerals used in EV production are available in a handful of countries.
While the rise in demand for zero-emission vehicles and recycled materials are the main drivers of the EV battery recycling market, the major challenges in EV battery recycling include:
- High initial investments
- High transportation costs of recycling
- Shortage of worn-out batteries
- Dismantling, storing, and manual testing of batteries
- Chemical separation processes
- Illegal battery recycling
Another significant hurdle is developing a system of shared battery collections across multiple OEMs and recyclers to improve cost and environmental efficiencies.
As the EV market continues to grow, EV battery recycling needs to keep pace with rapidly evolving battery chemistries and sizes.
Furthermore, better sorting technologies and process flexibility, convenient access to EV recycling options, greater manufacturer standardization of batteries, and regulatory stability can improve EV battery recycling.
The introduction of electric vehicles radically changed the automotive industry that began to work aggressively toward decarbonizing transportation and improving air quality to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
With EV sales growing annually, the number of EVs retiring will increase in the coming years and comprise a much higher percentage of the recycling stream. The growth trajectory of the EV market presents challenges of scale in dealing with the cumulative burden of electric vehicle waste.
After the first-life use (as a car battery) and the second-life use (reuse and repurposing), EV batteries are ready to be recycled.
Repurposing batteries holds tremendous growth potential as stationary power storage units for residential and commercial buildings with useful life for many decades into the future.
On the other hand, recycling end-of-service EV batteries is instrumental in optimizing material use, preventing the scarcity of essential raw materials, and reducing the EV industry’s reliance on environmentally intensive mining.
The EV battery recycling space presents huge upside potential to supply battery material for new battery manufacturing and support second-life applications, including reuse and repurposing.
EV battery recycling is now a priority and no longer a potential opportunity waiting to be tapped for the world’s electrified future.