The challenge of end of life electric vehicle batteries

Electric vehicles are a crucial element in global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. But while EVs do not emit carbon dioxide at the point of use, they come with their own environmental challenges including a carbon footprint associated with manufacturing of the EV and the end of life management of the battery. Indeed the lithium-ion batteries used in EV’s  pose a significant waste management challenge.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that 36% growth in EV stock will be required, with 245 million EVs on our roads worldwide by 2030. While that is great news for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, particularly in Cities, it means that within a few years there will be millions of lithium ion battery packs reaching the end of their lives.

This creates two issues, first lithium-ion batteries ending up in landfill with a significant risk that the metals they contain will contaminate surrounding land and water – this could happen in territories where the recycling infrastructure for these batteries does not exist. The second issue is a potential shortage of the metals – including cobalt, lithium and nickel – used in EV car batteries, as well as the environmental impact associated with mining these metals..

While lead-acid batteries, used in combustion engine vehicles to start the engine and power on-board electronics, are widely recycled, currently the vast majority of lithium-ion batteries are not recycled because it is an expensive and challenging process. It is estimated that recycling rates for lithium-ion batteries could be as low as 5%, compared to 99%[AF1]  for lead-acid car batteries. 

Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop effective, commercial scale lithium-ion battery recycling facilities to keep up with the increase in EV batteries and to reduce our reliance on primary resources to manufacture new battery packs.

Developing commercial lithium-ion battery recycling in the UK

Fenix Battery Recycling aims to be at the forefront of tackling these issues. We are developing a facility to offer on-site recycling for multiple battery types including lithium ion from our shredding and recycling plant in Willenhall, West Midlands and our latest site in Kilwinning, Scotland.

Working with circular economy innovator Ever Resource Ltd and the University of Birmingham, Fenix has secured funding from the Government’s Innovate UK Smart Grants programme for the development of separation technologies for end-of-life lithium ion batteries. These separation technologies will reduce the cost of processing end of life battery packs at the end of life, and are technology agnostic – which means that all downstream recycling processes are compatible with our innovation.

Emma Kendrick, Professor of Energy Materials at the University of Birmingham and her research group, including Dr Rob Somerville have invented a process which physically separates, without any chemical processing, anode-arisings and cathode-arisings in shredded end-of-life lithium batteries.

This technology has significant potential to make all types of downstream recycling process cleaner and more sustainable and the researchers believe the technology can be extended to other battery types.

The Innovate UK funding will allow the technology to be scaled up, so that it can be used in commercial battery recycling.

We are at the start of a new era of EV’s; it is crucial that the recycling infrastructure is developed to enable us to achieve mass market adoption of the EV.

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