Skip main navigation

What Are the Future Challenges That Come With Recycling?

We will address the challenges that recycling companies will face in the future and the benefits and risks associated with implementing new processes.
close up of a bin, representing a deposit where you can put batteries that need to be recycled with a sign that says

The increased volumes of batteries and policy requirements will impact how the industry is assessed and measured in various areas. Let’s delve into each aspect:

  • Technological Readiness: The future of recycling and the potential innovation in LIBs remain uncertain, presenting opportunities for new ideas and approaches to be explored.
  • Efficiency in the Recovery of a Range of Materials: Stricter regulations will necessitate the recovery of a wider range of materials. While Pyro will continue to focus on metals and alloys, Hydro will target inorganic salts, and direct recycling will prioritize the extraction of physical components.
  • Emissions and Process Eco-friendliness: Europe’s commitment to decarbonization, not limited to the transport sector, will likely result in new regulations that require lower emissions in battery recycling.
  • Economic Viability in the Future: Implementing regulatory requirements and adopting new technologies entail financial risks, which will be reflected in the planned recycling rates. Furthermore, a reduction in the cobalt content of the tailings will impact all recycling processes.

Cobalt is a valuable material widely used in batteries, but there are sustainability and environmental concerns driving efforts to reduce its reliance in battery manufacturing. If cobalt content in recycling tailings decreases, it can affect the overall value and recovery potential of cobalt in the recycling process, which may impact the financial aspects of recycling operations.

Two workers dissasembling a battery pack of an EV. Dissasembly of an EV battery pack. Hibridosyelectricos.com (2022)

The increase in battery volumes will bring both benefits and challenges to recyclers as they navigate technological innovations and new recycling process requirements.

  • Recyclers will need to expand their capacity dedicated to LIBs from EVs to accommodate the anticipated growth in the battery market. Currently, the volumes of removed EV batteries are relatively low, leading recycling companies to utilize their facilities for other types of batteries.
  • Automation can significantly enhance the efficiency of recycling plants by implementing automated battery classification systems and optimizing recycling processes. This automation will lead to increased productivity, improved material recovery rates, and reduced costs.
  • As the industry shifts towards EV battery reuse, some recyclers may diversify their services and offer battery testing, refurbishment, and reuse. Depending on the viability of each reuse service, some recyclers may choose to specialize exclusively in reusing batteries.
  • Access to the Battery Management System (BMS) and State of Health (SOH) assessment will play a vital role in determining a battery’s potential for a second life. Extracting information from the BMS will facilitate diagnostic and evaluation services, leading to the development of a market catering to this need.

A light blue E-Bus parked. E-Bus in India. India Times (2021)

  • Geographically, the majority of Europe’s LIB recycling facilities are concentrated in Central and Western Europe. The significant costs associated with transporting used batteries make cross-European transport challenging, thus encouraging the establishment of local recycling facilities. This trend presents an advantage in attracting new recycling companies to Europe while offering expansion opportunities for well-positioned recyclers.
  • Battery chemistry poses uncertainties, as the dominant technology for future electric vehicles is yet to be determined. Solid-state batteries and lithium-sulphur batteries are two potential technologies under consideration. Solid-state batteries offer advantages such as non-flammable solid-state electrolytes, distinguishing them from current batteries that use liquid electrolytes. Adopting solid-state batteries would necessitate changes in the cathode separation process, while hydro and pyro processes would remain largely unaffected. Conversely, lithium-sulphur batteries present challenges for pyrometallurgical recycling due to the negative impact of sulfur on the process.

Conclusion

The increasing volumes of batteries and policy requirements in the industry will drive changes in assessment criteria and key performance indicators. Technological readiness, efficiency in material recovery, emissions reduction, economic viability, and other factors will shape the future of battery recycling. Adapting to emerging challenges, exploring potential opportunities, and addressing prevailing uncertainties will be crucial for the industry to thrive and contribute to a sustainable and circular economy.

References

  • Transport & Environment. (2019) Batteries on wheels: the role of battery electric cars in the EU power system and beyond. Retrieved from: Link
This article is from the free online

Exploring the World of Electric Buses: Advancing Zero-Emission Public Transport

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now