Three benefits to lithium-ion battery recycling with Martin Steinbild

Martin Steinbild, managing director for Steinbild Consulting will be moderating a panel on EV battery recycling at this year’s European Battery Raw Materials Conference 2022. Here, he shares the top three benefits to lithium-ion battery recycling for the industry.

Martin Steinbild headshot for European Battery Raw Materials promotionHere, Martin Steinbild shares the top three benefits to lithium-ion battery recycling for the industry.

1. Less use of raw material extracted from sensitive areas

Every recycled tonne of material reduces many tonnes of raw material extraction in sometimes sensitive areas of the world

Sustainability means to avoid the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. In other words, it is sustainable to keep the material already in use in the human sphere and not replace it after first use with fresh material. Any extraction of raw materials from natural resources has a negative impact on the environment, even if upgrade efforts for used materials are necessary.

I like to quickly calculate a rough example based on lithium hard rock mining to demonstrate such impact. As pegmatites occur in veins, there is always the need to excavate waste rock, which can be 10 times the lithium-bearing rocks like spodumene. Let’s assume that from 10 million tonnes of rock movement, only 1 million tonne is lithium-bearing rock. In many resources, spodumene ore contains about 1.0% Li2O, only, which leads to anticipation of optimistic recovery rates to 20,000 t LCE. In other words, only 0.2% of all extracted material will be used.

To be fair, for other battery raw materials, the efficiency might be higher and maybe co-products can be extracted to reduce total waste. On the other hand, modern battery recycling processes can extract 90% by weight for new uses. By the way, the lithium content of a battery is a multiple higher as in rock (e.g., 3% Li versus 0.5% Li on a metal base), which is a good starting point for recycling.

2. Reduction in environmental footprint

Recycling reduces the CO2-footprint, water usage, nitrogen-oxide and sulphur-oxide emissions compared to raw material production from newly extracted resources, tremendously

Raw material conversion from hard rock is very energy consuming. For lithium for example, the first production step is decrepitation (calcination), which is a forced crystal change in rotating furnaces at above 1,000°C. These furnaces are typically operated by natural gas or, widespread in China, operated by coal. In addition, significant amounts of reagents, solvents and other chemicals (with its own footprints) are consumed to produce battery-grade chemicals. For nickel, copper and the like the footprint is similarly poor.

Every published recycling footprint for hydrometallurgical processes, I am aware of, report massive savings in emissions.

In addition, in many countries mining will have a negative impact on social wellbeing, and country-specific governance is not acceptable.

3. Raw material interdependency

Recycling reduces the raw material dependency of Europe, significantly

At the moment, there is almost no lithium resource exploitation in Europe. Although, Europe has a few resources for lithium, in almost every case the start-up is on question as the local population is against a mine operation in their neighborhood. Let’s assume that three European resources will come onstream until 2030. At an average capacity of 30,000 tpa, only 90,000 t will be supplied from within Europe. As the demand in 2030 is forecasted to more than 400,000 t, 75% of lithium demand needs to be imported. Therefore, every tonne of recycled lithium is highly welcome.

Furthermore, with increasing recycling volumes, recycling could ease price volatility to some extent.

Join Martin at European Battery Raw Materials Conference 2022

On day one of this year’s European Battery Raw Materials conference, Martin will be moderating a fascinating panel discussion on establishing close loop EV battery recycling. He’ll be joined by Dr Vipin Tyagi from ACE Green Recycling, Megan O’Connor from Nth Cycle, Michael Insulan from Commercial Electra and Hans Eric Melin from Circular Energy Storage.

The panel will cover questions including:

  • How much of BRMs can be recuperated from recycling, including the potential for mining waste and failed battery cells?
  • Can LFP be economically recycled?
  • Black mass processing: Can it be a profitable operation?
  • When can we expect to reach the scale of Chinese capacity for black mass treatment?

You can find out more about this year’s event and register here.

Read more from Martin Steinbild

While there are distinct benefits to lithium-ion battery recycling, the industry faces challenges when considering how to close the loop on recycling. Click here to read the second part of this article, where Martin explores the challenges and strategic aspects to recycling that market participants should be aware of.

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