Recycling Technology 2020
ear recyclers out there in the world, doing your best to strive towards a
more circular economy, especially with respect to our increasingly scarce
metals and minerals. At the time of writing, the summer is upon us. For
Sweden, this means that the days are long, in some places even 24 hours long.
This is very good for those investing in solar power, for example, for their hous-
es. However, the sun is not always shining up here in the north. In winter, it
can be night the whole day and so electricity production via solar cells is very
limited. So on balance, it is not too bad if we can store the energy in batteries,
Now the situation is becoming interesting. Batteries will be in demand in
many other sectors of society too, such as electro-mobility. I have written pre-
viously about the importance of repair and of using each product for a longer
period of time. When it comes to batteries, however, I am not so sure.
For electric vehicle batteries, the chemistries are changing fast. In many cases,
cars made less than 10 years ago come equipped with battery systems that are
no longer easy to replace. If we are lucky, they can be repaired if, say, only a few
cells are bad. But if they are not repairable, what do we do then? Find a use other
than in a car? This is a popular suggestion made, for example, by Tesla. However,
this means that batteries start to drift around in society, making collection for
recycling considerably more difficult.
Before we proceed too far along this road, maybe we should think once more
if this is optimal. If the batteries stay in the car until useless (including repair)
and then materials are recycled, it is possible to have a very efficient collection
system. Having some sort of refund system might also work. One reason for
these thoughts is that, after being involved in several battery recycling projects,
it is apparent that efficiency can be very high if an even flow of uniform bat-
teries is recycled.
Given that chemistries are expected to change at a fairly rapid pace, it would
become increasingly difficult to maintain efficient recycling for a very long time.
It is important to ensure that used batteries don’t end up as a disposal problem
as that would make recycling very difficult.
Another obstacle in the path of circularity is growth. As long as we have
growth, recycling will help only in part. Let’s assume a growth of 15% per year
(very low for batteries) and a battery life of 15 years. So assuming the same
material usage, even 100% recycling would cover only 14% of the total need.
A partial solution would be to decrease material use in the battery but then it
would be even more difficult to make recycling profitable.
Based on the above, we need a paradigm shift in, for example, battery con-
struction in order to achieve the lofty goals set for a circular society. With the
summer holidays approaching and with hopefully many lazy days ahead for a
lot of clever people, may I humbly suggest that some of this time is dedicated to
pondering new and exciting methods for making batteries and other material-
Prof. Dr Christian Ekberg
Chalmers University of
The battery challenge
03_chairmanword.indd 3 12-09-19 13:56