Li-ion Battery Recycling: 2020-2040

        With the rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), the demand for Li-ion batteries will grow significantly in the coming decades. In the meanwhile, there are increasing concerns over raw material supplies especially rare metals such as cobalt. Recycling provides a crucial solution to raw material supply insecurity and price fluctuations. Through recovering critical raw materials from Li-ion batteries, manufacturers can shield themselves from supply disruptions and also generate additional revenue streams.

        Today quite a few spent Li-ion batteries from consumer electronics (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) are never recycled. Different from consumer electronics batteries, it is much easier to build the collection network for EV batteries because when they can’t be utilized in the vehicles anymore, they need to be handled by professionals. In many countries, the extended producer responsibility (EPR) requires the OEMs to take care of retired batteries. As EV batteries beginning to reach their end-of-life, we will see an exponential growth of retired EV batteries available for recycling in the coming decades. From 2025 onwards, retired EV batteries will exceed consumer electronics batteries and dominate the recycling market, bringing huge value opportunities across the value chain.

        One of the hot discussions around end-of-life EV batteries is whether they should be recycled to obtain the raw materials or repurposed for a second-life in alternative applications such as stationary energy storage. Whether retired EV batteries are repurposed or not, they will need to be recycled anyway in the end. In theory, recycling is the least sustainable measure in circular economy and should be the last step when the batteries couldn’t be utilised anymore. In practice, however, many more factors are considered. Technologically, repurposing a second-life for retired EV batteries won’t have any effect on its recycling – it will delay the recycling process and thus have an impact on the logistics and economics of recycling. In this report, we discuss the economics of Li-ion battery recycling and the key factors that might impact its value.

        This report provides an in-depth analysis of the Li-ion battery recycling value chain from a lifecycle perspective: from mining and processing, to battery materials and production, battery usage, throughout to recycling (or second-life and recycling). The key market players in Li-ion battery recycling are also analysed in the report. We found that several key issues need to be addressed for efficient recycling of Li-ion batteries. Battery collection is one of the most important prerequisites for efficient Li-ion battery recycling. Without an efficient battery collection network, the low volume of batteries to be recycled or high cost of collection could damage the economics of recycling. Another challenge is the lack of design for recycling that make battery disassembly and sorting costly and time-consuming.

        While the easier collection and sheer scale of EV batteries provides a huge opportunity it also comes with various technical and economic challenges. The numerous designs and high voltage of EV battery packs mean safe disassembly will remain a complex and time-consuming stage. Furthermore, the $/kWh value embedded within EV batteries will be lower compared to consumer electronics batteries, meaning recyclers will have to extract more material at higher purities and efficiencies if they want to break even on their recycling process. The report provides an overview and analysis of the main stages of Li-ion recycling processes, including mechanical treatments, pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. The techniques are evaluated and compared, and examples of processes used by companies and described in patents are also presented. In addition to providing an understanding of the processes used and being developed for recycling, the report will provide insight into the materials required and therefore the opportunities from this industry.

        IDTechEx find that the majority of recycling capacity is currently located in China, though there is increasing interest from other countries. A global analysis of companies capable of recycling Li-ion batteries is provided, allowing for insights into geographic distribution of companies, recycling capacity, industry involvement and interest, process/technology preference and stage of commercialisation.

      According to IDTechEx forecasts, by 2040 global Li-ion battery recycling market will be worth $31 billion annually.

       In this report, we provide a twenty-year market forecast on Li-ion battery recycling in both volume and revenues. The market forecasts come with a set of breakdowns by region, sector (consumer electronics, stationary energy storage and EVs), battery chemistry as well as the key metals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper and aluminium) recovered. Analysis of each key markets – China, Europe and North America will be provided with insights on their market size and value. China is the largest market for Li-ion battery recycling: by 2040 over 50%, or 4.3 million tonnes of the world’s spent Li-ion batteries will be recycled in China. And although in the early 2020s, most Li-ion battery available for recycling come from consumer electronics, from 2025 onwards, the electric vehicle sector will dominate and significantly drive the Li-ion battery recycling market.

Forecast of global Li-ion battery recycling market by region (left) and by sector (right)