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The unknown success of lithium-ion battery recycling

Spiers New Technologies engineer analyses used car battery

‘Recycling of lithium-ion batteries is happening on a much larger scale than most people realise,’ according to London-based consultancy firm Circular Energy Storage.

Upwards of 97 000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries were recycled in 2018. Around 67 000 tonnes were recycled in China and 18 000 tonnes in South Korea. Besides, more than 1 GWh of second-life batteries serve as back-up solutions, energy storage and portable devices.

This suggests a far higher recycling rate than the 2-7% typically cited by researchers and journalists, says Hans Eric Melin, director of Circular Energy Storage. ‘We know from our data (based on input from 50+ leading battery recyclers worldwide) that almost 100 000 tonnes of waste batteries were recycled last year. That’s about 50% of the volume that reached end-of-life.’

Melin points out the ‘average’ recycling rate of 5% is based on ‘obsolete’ data from a 2010 report by Friends of the Earth. This figure is still being recycled to this day, the battery specialist argues.

Meanwhile, the global lithium-ion battery market will be worth approximately US$ 105 billion by 2025, reports Adroit Market Research. In China alone, some 10 billion lithium-ion batteries were produced in 2017. This grew to 12 billion last year. The surge is largely due to strong growth in the electronics and automotive sector.

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