Lithium Battery Recycling is a Booming Industry
With the uptick in electric vehicles and stationary energy storage, experts predict a 5%-10% increase in the global lithium battery market by 2030. Now, the recycling industry is trying to develop and hone best practices for clean and effective lithium battery recycling. And recently, Battery Resourcers of Worcester Massachusetts announced plans to build the nation's largest lithium battery recycling plant, while Toronto-based Li-Cycle opened what is currently the largest facility in North America in December.
Why This Matters
The focus on lithium battery recycling signals a big win for climate. Experts have long cautioned that the viability of EVs and battery-stored grid energy depends on lithium battery waste management, which can cause contamination at landfills; and ease of production, which is dependent on heavy metal mining.
Recycling will help alleviate some of the mining demands, especially as researchers find new ways to reuse the expensive metals necessary for the batteries. Jeff Spanberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, told Inside Climate News, "If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can't make battery materials from the battery materials.
A New Kind of Battery?
Experts acknowledge that the process of recycling lithium batteries is challenging and still produces waste. Such facts have prompted some scientists to promote a new type of battery altogether. At Texas A&M, researchers are developing a degradable battery, made of organic materials that would decompose upon proper disposal.
Professor Jodie Lutheknhaus, a lead researcher on the project, told the BBC that these batteries, if improved, could be a game-changer. "Batteries that degrade on command may simplify or lower the barrier to recycling. Eventually, these degradation products could be reconstituted back into a fresh new battery, closing the material's life-cycle loop," she said.
So far, organic batteries, which have existed in some form for decades, remain costly to produce and have struggled to meet the energy demands of EVs, making them a weak substitute for lithium batteries.