Li-ion batteries dominate the electric vehicle (EV) market, are part of everyday life in consumer electronics, and will be prevalent in stationary energy storage. However, Li-ion battery sustainability depends on their whole lifecycle, including end-of-life management. Additionally, there are increasing concerns over raw material supplies such as cobalt. Recycling can recover the embedded value of battery metals to create extra revenues and a circular supply chain, which is shielded against the fluctuating commodity prices of battery materials. Stakeholders across the Li-ion battery supply chain are recognising the potential of recycling, and the Li-ion battery recycling market is expected to boom over the next two decades. In 2042, 12 million tonnes of Li-ion batteries will be recycled obtaining $51 billion USD in valuable metals.
The past year has seen interest and investments in the Li-ion battery recycling market accelerate as companies prepare for the mass availability of waste Li-ion batteries. At the moment, the majority come from consumer electronics (e.g. laptops and mobile phones) are never recycled. It is 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 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to take care of retired batteries. As EV batteries are beginning to reach their end-of-life in the coming decades, we will see an exponential growth of retired EV batteries available for recycling causing them to dominate the market, bringing huge value opportunities.
The report provides an in-depth analysis of the current state of the Li-ion battery recycling market, including a global technology and policy deep-dive. While there is a clear dominance in China, due to establishing specific Li-ion battery management policy early-on, Europe and North America are catching on. Following the analysis of data from over 85 Li-ion battery recyclers worldwide, IDTechEx report on multiple commercial-scale recycling plants planned across these regions to start operation in 2022/2023. In addition to up-to-date mechanical, hydro- and pyrometallurgical process descriptions, the report analyses developments in direct recycling. While currently at a pre-commercial stage, direct recycling offers a promising technology that can reinvigorate spent cathodes and has the potential to recover other battery components, such as the anode and foils, with high environmental benefits. As the market matures and economies seek advanced circularity, direct recycling could become commercially viable.
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.
Another topical discussion 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 a circular economy and should be the last step when the batteries can’t be utilised anymore. However, in practice, many more factors are considered. Technologically, repurposing a second-life for retired EV batteries should not have any effect on its ability to be recycled – 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 IDTechEx report provides a twenty-year market forecast on the Li-ion battery recycling market for the period 2020-2042, in both volume and market value. The forecasts are broken down by region, cathode chemistry, Li-ion battery sector (consumer electronics, stationary energy storage, manufacturing scrap and EVs), and key metals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper, and aluminium) recovered. EVs are split into electric cars, light-commercial vehicles, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, and two-wheelers (scooters and motorcycles). Data is given in GWh, ktonnes and $bn with a bottom-up analysis of recycling rates.