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Recovering vital metals by recycling more car batteries

‘Battery costs are falling by half every five years as the scale of manufacturing increases,’ Berenberg bank analyst Asad Farid told the recent E-waste World Expo in Frankfurt. Based on this trend, the global electric vehicle market will reach US$ 140 billion (EUR 125 billion) by the end of this year.

That’s not all 2020 has in store. The electric bus sector is predicted to see fourfold growth, topping US$ 60 billion (EUR 53.8 billion), while stationary battery storage solutions could be worth almost US$ 15 billion (EUR 13.5 billion).

According to Farid, this will yield ‘a tsunami of old battery cells’. The analyst expects around 20 million e-cars to be sold in the coming five years which ‘translates to 3.5 million tonnes of automotive batteries to be recycled’.

Ultimately, Berenberg projects almost 265 000 tonnes of battery waste will be on the market by 2022, possibly growing to 2.2 million tonnes by 2028. As Farid points out, car batteries represent ‘a treasure chest full of expensive metals’. For example, metals worth US$ 2 billion (EUR 1.8 billion) went into electric vehicles in 2017 and this value will grow to US$ 12 billion (EUR 10.7 billion) in the next five years. 

Today, stainless steel makes up more than 70 kg of the weight of current models by Tesla and Chevrolet while nickel and lithium are both around 55 kg. Large amounts of precious metals will go into the next generation of electric vehicles, driving up raw material prices.

By 2022, it is expected the market will need 350 000 tonnes of stainless steel, 285 000 tonnes of lithium; 215 000 tonnes of aluminium, 175 000 tonnes of nickel, 110 000 tonnes of copper and around 30 000 tonnes of cobalt.

The analyst believes a consensus that EV batteries have a lifecycle of more than 15 years is wrong. ‘We think it is more like five years,’ Farid argues. ‘Adding ten years to the life cycle of batteries by using them in energy storage systems is an unrealisable dream. It’s simply not feasible.’

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