The profitable industry behind discarded lithium-ion batteries: the recycling market alone reaches 117.8 billion

by:CTECHi     2021-09-09
Today, more than 500,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries are discarded every year in the world, most of which come from small electronic products. However, as the world transitions to an electric economy, it is estimated that by 2030, the global demand for lithium-ion batteries will increase 10 times, most of which are used in electric vehicles, and the number of waste batteries will also increase sharply. Many people in the industry believe that discarded lithium-ion batteries are not only a major environmental issue to be solved, but also represent a new opportunity. The current fragile and controversial supply chain can be replaced by a 'recyclable system'. This new system is made of recyclable materials. New battery. It is estimated that by 2030, the market for recycling lithium-ion batteries alone may create a value of 18 billion U.S. dollars (approximately RMB 117.8 billion) each year, far higher than the 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2019. Due to the bright prospects of this market, including Amazon, Panasonic and many start-up companies, they are all targeting the lithium electronic battery recycling business. The start-up company leading the US market is Redwood Materials, which is the latest joint venture created by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel (JBStraubel). Since 2017, the company has established two plants and currently processes all discarded and defective batteries from nearby Panasonic and Tesla plants. Redwood Materials also recently partnered with Amazon to handle batteries from the retail giant. In the end, Redwood Materials can recover 95% to 98% of the nickel, cobalt, aluminum, graphite and more than 80% of the lithium in the battery. Most of these materials are sold back to Panasonic to manufacture new Tesla batteries. Co-founder and executive chairman Tim Johnston (TimJohnston) created Li-Cycle in a similar way. The company's business structure is mainly built around the 'center and spoke' model. Li-Cycle intends to collect the battery in a local 'spoke' facility and divide it into three parts: the plastic casing, the mixed metal (such as foil), and the active material for the battery core. Li-Cycle can sell these materials directly, or they can be shipped to a central 'hub' factory and soaked in a liquid at room temperature to extract 90% to 95% of the metal. Li-Cycle currently has two 'spoke-type' facilities in operation, located in Ontario, Canada and Rochester, New York, USA. A total of 10,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries can be split each year. Like Redwood Materials, the company hopes to expand as soon as possible and has raised approximately US$50 million in funding so far. But looking to the future, the researchers pointed out that the long-term profitability of recycling batteries in the atomic decomposition mode may become extremely thin. After all, the chemical structure of batteries changes every year. For example, Panasonic significantly reduced the cobalt content in Tesla batteries by 60% between 2012 and 2018. These changes may require constant adjustments to the recycling process and at the same time reduce profits. A more effective method may be to recycle batteries at a higher level, using their larger molecular structures instead of atoms. Steve Sloop, a chemist and founder of battery research company OnTechnology, compares batteries to apartment buildings. Instead of tearing down the wood and bricks, why not renovate them? Slope hopes to soak the active materials in the battery in a lithium-rich cylinder to restore them to their original state. In addition to technology, scaling up will be an important challenge for all recycling initiatives. In the laboratory, it is relatively easy to turn batteries into atoms or replace lithium. But how to collect, transport, sort, dismantle, process, and redistribute the upcoming millions of tons of materials is not the case.
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