The non-negligible environmental impact of electric vehicle (EV) lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) becomes increasingly problematic, in light of the significant surge of LIB demand in the coming years. Impacts include, for instance, material depletion of critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt, use of toxic chemicals and emissions during processing and manufacturing steps, as well as the risk of the accumulation of battery waste mountains. Finding solutions for improving the overall battery sustainability across the entire value chain is therefore inevitable to secure the environmental benefits of EVs.
In this context, we have focused on the end-of-life treatment, namely recycling, of EV LIBs. Developing efficient LIB recycling processes is pivotal to recovering valuable and critical materials and to displacing environmental burdens incurred from raw materials extraction. However, current LIB recycling is still unprofitable, hindering the establishment of a wider recycling industry. To identify cost hotspots within the recycling chain, we conducted a holistic, techno-economic assessment, using system boundaries that include transportation, battery disassembly, recycling and revenue generated from recovered materials. This assessment model allowed us to compare the net recycling profits for current and future recycling processes, various commercial battery chemistries and recycling locations such as Europe, China and the US. Based on the obtained results, optimisation strategies and guidelines for the development of a financially viable recycling process are provided, thus paving the way for a more sustainable battery life cycle.