The Complex Landscape of Lithium-ion Battery Recycling

The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is well underway, with manufacturers and consumers alike embracing the shift toward cleaner and more sustainable transportation. However, as the demand for EVs surges, the industry faces a significant challenge: ensuring a secure and sustainable supply of critical minerals essential for battery production. This article explores the dynamic landscape of long-term offtake agreements and investments in the critical minerals value chain by EV cell manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
An increasing number of firms have entered the LiB recycling market, claiming to be recyclers. However, it’s crucial to distinguish between genuine recyclers, brokers, collectors, and newcomers. True recycling, in this context, refers to the reclamation of materials from spent LiBs rather than their reuse for power storage or other purposes.

To gain insights into this evolving landscape, stakeholder interviews were conducted with leading international recyclers. These companies were selected based on specific criteria: being global or regional leaders in recycling LiBs. The identified recyclers play a pivotal role in Asia, North America, and Europe, which collectively constitute more than 90% of the global LiB recycling market in 2021.

These recyclers can be categorized into three groups:

  1. Group 1 (Green Highlighting): Mining companies with relevant metal expertise that ventured into recycling by utilizing existing facilities.
  2. Group 2 (Purple Highlighting): Recyclers with a background in or collaboration with battery/EV manufacturing.
  3. Group 3 (Yellow Highlighting): Traditional recyclers of electronic waste and metals.

Interviews with eight leading international battery recyclers shed light on corporate strategy and investment choices within this evolving sector. These recyclers collectively have the capacity to recycle approximately 60% of the global market’s end-of-life batteries in 2021.

The global battery recycling market is rapidly evolving, with most recycling processes being hydrometallurgical. LiB recyclers are predominantly located in Europe, the US, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and China. Notably, China and South Korea have been leading in manufacturing battery materials and cells, creating a strong demand for raw materials and opportunities for recyclers.

Recyclers, battery manufacturers, and EV producers are increasingly collaborating to strengthen their positions. Some notable collaborations include:

  • GEM expanding into mining in Indonesia while providing technology to other recyclers.
  • Glencore partnering with Li-Cycle to produce battery-grade end products.
  • SungEel and CNGR signing an agreement to set up recycling facilities in Europe.
  • Huayou partnering with BMW for closed-loop recycling.
  • Duesenfeld and BMW working on achieving a recycling rate of up to 96%.
  • Volkswagen partnering with Redwood for battery recycling.
  • Umicore collaborating with Automotive Cells Company and BASF.
  • Fortum, BASF, and Nornickel establishing a closed-loop for battery recycling.

These collaborations contribute to the evolving circular economy associated with batteries, ensuring resource availability for all stakeholders. It provides access to inputs for recycling and reuse firms, raw materials for material processors and manufacturers, and long-term involvement in the value chain for mining corporations.

In conclusion, the LiB recycling landscape is undergoing significant transformation, marked by collaborations and partnerships that promise to shape a sustainable and circular future for battery management.

Source: Perspectives of Global and Domestic Companies on Advanced Chemistry Cells Battery Reuse and Recycling | NITI Aayog

A table titled 'Overview of leading international battery recyclers,' with columns for region, key recycling operators, headquarters, role in the value chain, initial year, and latest status of LIBs recycling activity. Rows contain data for various companies in Asia, North America, and Europe.
Source: Perspectives of Global and Domestic Companies on Advanced Chemistry Cells Battery Reuse and Recycling | NITI Aayog
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