The battery packs that power new energy vehicles (NEVs) represent one of the biggest changes facing automobile recyclers as NEVs gain market share. Several presenters at the 2019 E-Mobility & Circular Economy (EMCE 2019) conference, organized by Switzerland-based ICM AG and held in Tokyo July 1-3, provided updates on how EV battery pack recycling is evolving.
Lithium ion batteries (LIBs) had been used in consumer electronics products before becoming widespread in electric vehicles (EVs), helping provide a start to recycling efforts. Christophe Pillot of France-based consultancy Avicenne Energy.
Pillot said at the start of the 21st century, in many applications, the rechargeable market was shared about evenly between LIBs and nickel-metal-hydride batteries. LIBs now dominate, with demand for such batteries growing by about 20 percent annually as of 2018. Within the EV sector, demand for LIBs is growing by 44 percent annually, according to Pillot.
In the United States, Spiers New Technologies is refurbishing and reselling EV and hybrid vehicle batteries at a facility in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Dirk Spiers said his company’s mission is “to extend the life of existing battery packs.” He says his firm performs refurbishing, remanufacturing and also engages in some “cathode to cathode recycling.”
Spiers New Technologies currently employs 58 people and accepts EV batteries with the intention of finding the highest return on investment for what arrives. He says the nickel, cobalt and lithium in the batteries are in demand. “Why go to the Congo when you can go to Oklahoma City [for cobalt]?,” he asked.
Spiers pointed to companies such as Gem Co. and BRUNP in China that are already performing high-volume cathode-to-cathode lithium and cobalt recycling, and said his company and others in the U.S. must invest in and prepare for that technology soon. “We are not even on the map yet” he said of such efforts in the U.S. compared to China.
Yu-Tack Kim of the Korea Battery Industry Association (KBIA) said recyclers should be watching how EV battery technology is evolving while developing their strategies. He said the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) of EV batteries has been falling, and if new batteries to go $100 per kWh, “there is no need to rebuild batteries.” Instead, said Kim, recycling for the materials within will make more sense. (Kim says KBIA is predicting costs will lower to $70 per kWh in future EV batteries.)
The refurbishment market also meets barriers in terms of warranty restrictions and the withholding of materials content information by battery manufacturers, stated Kim. Some end markets also face perceived safety restrictions, he added.
Fabrice Stassin of Belgium-based Umicore also said the evolution of EV batteries is far from over, with fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) emerging to compete with battery electric vehicles (BEVs), particularly in China.
Stassin said FCEVs could grow to obtain half of the global EV market by 2050. He remarked that FCEVs “must be dismantled in a responsible way,” as the power packs contain a considerable amount of fluorine. The fluorine also has to be captured thoroughly if such cells are smelted, he added.
EMCE 2019, which featured plant tours, workshops, conference sessions and an exhibit hall, was July 1-3 at the Westin Tokyo.