Financial viability of electric vehicle battery recycling

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Summary:

The steep increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales will inevitably lead to a large amount of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) accumulating in the coming decades. Those will need to be disposed of in a safe and eco-friendly manner to prevent landfill fires and leakage of toxic materials into the environment. Here, battery recycling is pivotal to prevent the built up of battery waste mountains and to ensure that critical materials such as lithium, cobalt and graphite are recovered and fed back into the value chain. This becomes especially important as the pressure on critical raw materials and the environmental impacts of mining activities will increase with a rising demand of LIBs. This could be prevented via increased recovery of battery materials. However, the establishment of a battery recycling industry is yet hampered by its low profitability, mostly related to the current lack of end-of-life batteries.

To be able to identify cost hotspots within the recycling chain, we performed a global and holistic techno-economic analysis of EV battery recycling. The assessment framework includes commonly implemented battery chemistries (LFP, NCA, NMC, LMO), various recycling locations (US, China, South Korea, Belgium and the UK) and recycling processes (pyrometallurgical, hydrometallurgical, direct recycling). The cost model takes into account the entire recycling chain, starting from battery collection, transportation, disassembly, recycling and revenue generated from recovered cell and pack materials. Based on the results, cost optimisation strategies are outlined to improve the economic viability of battery recycling accelerating the widespread recycling of end-of-life batteries and ultimately supporting the establishment of a battery circular economy.

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