The demand for electric vehicles has never been higher. Government leaders see the elimination of internal combustion vehicles as a crucial step to reduce global emissions and slow the effects of climate change.
But the limited availability of raw materials used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries — the primary power source for electric vehicles — complicates the transition. That’s on top of serious environmental and labor concerns.
Researchers and investors alike believe lithium-ion battery recycling is poised to make a big jump. Ford announced a partnership with Redwood Materials on its $11.4 billion electric vehicle mega campus investment to maximize lithium-ion battery recycling and second-life applications. Massachusetts-based Battery Resources recently raised $70 million to scale its closed loop material production technology.
Researcher and MIT professor John Deutch anticipates growing opportunities for the lithium-ion battery recycling industry, due to increasing costs and demand from electric vehicle manufacturers. During an interview with Renewable Energy World, Deutch highlighted the need for policies to incentivize or require lithium-ion battery recycling processes to encourage growth in the industry.
“If a policy of some kind was adopted for second use then you would have an incentive for the designers of the batteries to consider second-life alternatives in their manufacturing of the original battery,” Deutch said.
Emergen Research predicts the global battery market to reach $24.57 billion by 2027, up from $16.19 billion in 2019.
In February, Canada’s Li-Cycle, a lithium-ion battery recycling company, announced it would be listed on the NYSE via a SPAC transaction, valued at $1.67 billion. Li-Cycle is able to recover more than 90% of the most valuable elements from lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium, and copper.
“The use of lithium-ion batteries is obviously growing exponentially for electric vehicles, but it’s also growing for other applications, be they mobile devices, home power, tools, etc.,” said Brian Menell, CEO of TechMet, an investor in Li-Cycle. “Lithium-ion batteries are an environmental problem… No. 2, there’s a lot of residual value still in these batteries.”
Battery recycling also lessens the dependence on China, which controls much of the pipeline of raw materials. In June, the U.S. Dept. of Energy released a “National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries” that sets goals of establishing a secure pipeline for raw materials, domestic manufacturing, and enables recycling at scale.