UK must develop battery recycling infrastructure, study finds

Governments and industry in the United Kingdom must develop a recycling infrastructure for EV batteries, according to a new study led by the University of Birmingham. The researchers calculated that one million EVs sold in 2017 alone will result in 250,000 metric tons of unprocessed waste once these vehicles reach the end of their lives.

The paper identified challenges that policymakers and engineers will face in battery recycling:

  • Identifying second-use applications
  • Developing rapid repair and recycling methods
  • Improving diagnostics
  • Optimizing designs
  • Designing new stabilization processes

Researchers from the University of Newcastle and University of Leicester contributed to the study, which was recently published in the journal Nature.

The demand for Li-ion batteries continues to grow. By 2040, the UK will need eight gigafactories to service the demand, according to an analysis by the Faraday Institution, an independent electrochemical energy storage research group.

Gavin Harper, Faraday Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the paper, said, “To recycle Li-ion batteries efficiently, they must be disassembled and the resulting waste streams separated. As well as Li, these batteries contain a number of other valuable metals, such as cobalt, nickel and manganese, and there is the potential to improve the processes which are currently used to recover these for reuse.”

Andrew Abbott, a Professor at the University of Leicester and co-author of the paper, said, “Electrification of just two percent of the current global car fleet would represent a line of cars that could stretch around the circumference of the Earth – some 140 million vehicles. Landfill is clearly not an option for this amount of waste. Finding ways to recycle EV batteries will not only avoid a huge burden on landfill, it will also help us secure the supply of critical materials, such as cobalt and lithium, that surely hold the key to a sustainable automotive industry.”

Paul Christensen, a Professor at Newcastle University and co-author of the paper, said, “One of the areas of research for this project is to look at automation and how we can safely and efficiently dismantle spent batteries and recover the valuable materials such as lithium and cobalt. But there’s also a public safety issue that needs addressing as second-life EV batteries become more widely available. What we need is an urgent look at the whole lifecycle of the battery – from digging the materials out of the ground to disposing of them again at the end.”

Source: University of Birmingham