Mar 26, 2019 | Updated: 01:45 PM EDT

Battery recycling in electric vehicles: A new problem to an alternative solution in GHG emission

Feb 13, 2019 09:44 AM EST

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Lithium-Ion Battery

Greenhouse gas emissions are a concern in the environmental well-being of the world. One of the solutions is the widespread implementation of electric vehicles. However, along with this solution is an added problem which is battery recycling of these electric vehicles. 

Waste recycling issue with lithium-ion batteries

There is an increasing and significant volume in the production of new batteries that will not reach end-of-life status. An estimated 5,800 to 30,000 tonnes Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) is expected to be the amount of recycled lithium by 2025, according to energy storage and the circular economy consultancy named Creation Inn. The amount of recycled cobalt is predicted to be 22,500 tonnes. Despite these, there is a limitation when it comes to the availability of the recyclable volume of material because of poor collection systems for portable batteries.

Present policies and processes for lithium-ion battery recycling only involve a small volume and low size consumer electronic batteries. However, with the shift of almost all automobile manufacturers into hybrid-electric or all-electric cars in the future, there is a need to create a different approach in recycling batteries. 

Professor of Materials Science engineering and public policy Rebecca Ciez and director of the Wilson E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation Jay Whitacre have directed their proposal on how to ensure that the increase of lithium-ion batteries will not destroy the goal of creating electric vehicles. Their paper was published in Nature Sustainability which is entitled, "Examining different recycling processes for lithium-ion batteries.

"Automakers are also interested in recycling as a potential source of low-cost material that can be remanufactured into new battery packs," emphasizes Ciez, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and former student of Whitacre.

How battery recycling is done

The researchers compared a direct cathode recycling process with other recycling processes in terms of GHGs and energy consumption. Cathode materials are targeted to be intact so these can be utilized in future batteries. Lithium is used in all lithium-ion batteries to carry the charge. They just differ in the cathodes that store the lithium ions during discharge. These varying materials could either cobalt, nickel, or manganese. 

"We focused our analysis on specific lithium-ion formulations that are most common in today's electric vehicles," says Ciez, "and found that for cathodes containing metals like nickel, manganese, and cobalt, direct cathode recycling can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing new batteries from the materials and has the potential to be economically competitive with traditional cathode manufacturing."

Technology not enough, policies must be formulated and implemented

Focusing on technology is not enough in reducing GHG emissions through battery recycling. Technology and policy implementation of recycling processes must go hand in hand. Whitacre and Ciez emphasized that there is a need to collect automotive lithium-ion processes and mandate reduction in GHG emissions through recycling processes. 

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