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Why Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Is Important & What You Can Do About It

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Author: Dave Roberts, Reviewed: Hai Le

Updated on June 23, 2024 • Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries are everywhere.

Chances are you’ve used one today.

Li-ion batteries power all sorts of rechargeable devices, including:

  • Smart phones
  • Laptops
  • E-cigarettes
  • Scooters
  • E-bike
  • Electric toothbrushes
  • Solar power backup storage

… the list goes on.

And as the world moves towards net-zero carbon emissions, the number of li-ion batteries is set to increase even further.

That’s because li-ion batteries are used in:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs)
  • Battery energy storage systems (BESS) (used to power homes, and even entire electricity grids)

Fun Fact: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2023 saw global electric vehicle sales hit 14 million, 18% of all cars sold. Estimates for 2024 suggest more than 1 in 5 cars sold will be EVs.

More EVs means more batteries.

With so many li-ion batteries in circulation, it begs the question, ‘what happens to them all at the end-of-life stage?’

Here, Dave Roberts, UK MD at energy storage specialist GivEnergy, explains ‘why’ recycling li-ion batteries is important, and what you can do to play your part.

What Is Lithium-Ion Batteries?

To answer this question, we need to understand the battery chemistry of li-ion batteries.

So, let’s get technical for a moment.

Many lithium-ion batteries, or li-ion batteries for short, use nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) battery chemistry.

The advantages of NMC? High energy density.

That means a lot of energy can be stored into a relatively compact space. No wonder they’re used in so many portable rechargeable devices.

However, producing NMC batteries comes at a cost.

Here are some of the downsides:

  • Mining nickel and cobalt is a carbon-intensive process.
  • Mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been linked to unethical and exploitative working conditions, including the use of child labour.
  • Nickel and cobalt are only found in certain parts of the world. This means supply chains can be heavily dependent on imports from abroad.

So, what are the alternatives?

While NMC battery (a combination of Nickel, Manganese, and Cobalt) brings plenty of advantages and disadvantages, another type of li-ion battery is slowly becoming the battery of choice for manufacturers.

Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries offer lower energy density compared with NMC.

However, LiFePO4 batteries are far less likely to catch fire, making them the safer option.

(Those news stories you’ve read about smartphones, laptops, e-scooters, etc. bursting into flames? You can thank NMC batteries for that.)

As the world progresses towards net-zero carbon emissions, demand for lithium-ion batteries is being driven in large part by the electrification of transport and the need for energy storage.

Let’s take a closer look.

Data from Fastmarkets suggests the proportion of LiFePO4 batteries used in all electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and consumer electronics is set to rise from 29% in 2023 to 48% in 2033.

Meanwhile, the proportion of NMC batteries is set to decline from 50% to 43% over the same period.

Two Giv-Bat 9.5 batteries with Hybrid inverter

Another reason why are lithium-ion batteries on the rise is energy storage systems!

The International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests battery storage – including grid scale batteries and home batteries – will overtake pumped hydro storage as the largest form of energy storage worldwide.

Between 2023-2030, grid scale battery storage and home battery storage are estimated to increase from 54GW to 1,001GW and 33GW to 203GW, respectively.

With battery storage, the household can store energy generated from solar panels during the day to use later when they really need it.

As well as domestic battery storage systems, grid scale batteries are also on the rise as grid operators look to offset renewables’ hour-to-hour variability.

More battery storage systems mean more lithium-ion batteries.

Summary: A lithium-ion (li-ion) battery is a type of rechargeable battery that uses to power a whole range of rechargeable devices. From smartphones to electric vehicles, vapes to energy storage systems, chances are you’ve used a li-ion battery device already today.

GivEnergy commercial battery systems on a wall

Why Is It So Important To Recycle Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Battery recycling is important for both environmental and economic reasons.

While LiFePO4 batteries can be manufactured more sustainably than NMC batteries. Don’t for one moment think this means recycling LiFePO4 batteries isn’t important.

Recycling ALL types of lithium-ion batteries is crucial for a sustainable future.

By recycling used batteries, the valuable raw materials can be extracted and put to reuse. In turn, this will:

  • Reduce the need for mining, helping to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Lessen the risk of using raw materials linked to exploitative mining practices.
  • Stabilise countries’ supply chains by importing fewer raw materials from abroad.

The rise of lithium-ion battery recycling!

Given the growth in li-ion batteries, it’s not surprising that the government, industry, and others are taking the issue of battery recycling seriously.

Statista suggests the global li-ion battery recycling market will grow from 3.54 million in 2023 to 23.96 million in 2033.

And, there’s even more reason to be optimistic! The ACROBAT consortium – a collaboration of research institutes and top industry players in Europe – has developed eco-friendly processes and separation techniques for end-of-life LiFePO4 batteries. The process means more than 90% of critical raw materials contained within LiFePO4 batteries (lithium, phosphorus, graphite, etc.) could be recycled by 2030.

Li-ion battery recycling is important for the environment, important for supporting ethical work practices, and important for the economy.

Summary: Recycling lithium-ion batteries is important for conserving resources and protecting our environment. Extracting valuable materials from used batteries reduces reliance on harmful mining practices and lowers carbon emissions. Also, recycling strengthens supply chains by decreasing dependence on foreign raw materials.

Lithium-ion battery for phone on the wooden table

How Can You Recycle Your Lithium-Ion Batteries?

At this point, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with me?

Think of it like this.

You probably already have a number of li-ion battery devices in your possession – smartphone, laptop, E-cigarette, maybe an E-scooter, etc.

As a consumer, you’re the first line of defence when it comes to li-ion battery recycling.

When your product's batteries come to the end-of-life stage, you need to know what to do with them.

Here are a few basic tips which apply to the recycling of ALL batteries (li-ion, alkaline, lead acid, etc.)

  1. ALWAYS treat batteries as hazardous waste.
  2. NEVER mix batteries with regular waste or other recyclables, as this increases the risk of leaking toxic chemicals into the environment.
  3. ALWAYS dispose of batteries through designated battery recycling schemes.

Warning: Keep all lithium batteries out of the trash and out of your household recycling as they can cause fires and even explode if managed incorrectly.

It’s worth mentioning that not all battery schemes accept li-ion batteries from portable devices. In this case, here’s what the U.S. Department of Energy says:

Removable batteries should be brought to one of the following:

  • Certified electronics recyclers
  • Retailers that provide electronics takeback services
  • Specialised battery recyclers
  • Local household hazardous waste collection programs

Meanwhile, for non-removable batteries, entire devices should be taken to one of the following:

  • Certified electronics recyclers
  • Participating retailers that provide electronics takeback services
  • Local electronics or household hazardous

Again, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to do your research beforehand to see what’s available in your local area.

What about bigger lithium-ion batteries?

We’re talking EVs and BESS.

Let’s go through them both one-by-one.

Electric Vehicle (EV): If your EV battery is getting to its end-of-life stage, contact your local manufacturer’s garage to find out what to do next.

In some parts of the world, EV manufacturers are legally obliged to recycle the batteries in their vehicles. This is true in the European Union thanks to article r543-130 of the Environment Code.

Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS): At the end-of-life stage, users would be advised to contact their manufacturer to know what to do next.

To find a location near you go to Call2RecycleVT or call 1- 855-63-CYCLE

Summary: Regardless of where you are in the world, chances are that regulations already exist regarding the disposal of batteries. As with all other battery types, you should only dispose of li-ion batteries through designated hazardous waste channels. This will usually be through a local hazardous waste or battery recycling program.

Quick Takeaway

Demand for lithium-ion batteries is only set to grow, especially as the world looks to hit net zero targets.

  • Portable devices
  • Electric vehicles
  • Battery energy storage systems

It’s not hard to find a li-ion battery device these days.

To ensure the manufacture and use of li-ion batteries is sustainable, recycling of ALL li-ion batteries MUST be a priority.

As a consumer, don’t forget to play your part. Make sure you know what to do with all those li-ion battery devices at the end-of-life stage and take responsibility to ensure they are disposed of and recycled properly.

Frequently Asked Questions Relate To This Blog:

Question #1: Why recycling lithium-ion battery is important?

Answer: Recycling lithium-ion batteries conserves valuable resources like lithium, cobalt, and nickel from old batteries and puts them to use again. In turn, this will reduce the need for mining new materials, helping to reduce carbon emissions and money spent on raw materials.

Question #2: What happens if I don't recycle lithium-ion batteries?

Answer: There are two main consequences of not recycling lithium-ion batteries. First, landfills may not be equipped to safely handle lithium-ion batteries, leading to the potential of hazardous materials leaking into the soil and groundwater. Second, by not recycling, we lose valuable resources that can be used to create new batteries. This increases our dependence on mining virgin materials.

Question #3: How to recycle lithium-ion batteries?

Answer: As with all other battery types, you should only dispose of li-ion batteries through designated hazardous waste channels. This will usually be through a local hazardous waste or battery recycling program. Additionally, You can also check with your local electronics retailer or municipality to find out where you can recycle your batteries.

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