Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are at the heart of most electric vehicles (EVs), laptops, and smartphones since they are essential for storing renewable energy in the face of the climate emergency. Moreover, with the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are becoming even more popular due to their durability and temperature-tolerant capacity.
However, it is not sensible to extract lithium and other minerals to meet skyrocketing demand for these batteries. Meanwhile, establishing new mines is also an expensive and years-long process that also creates a host of environmental hazards, such as depletion of local water resources and pollution of the nearby regions with runoff debris that often leads to protests against new mines. Thus, recycling premanufactured lithium batteries is a sustainable process to meet the need for EV batteries.
This article describes the recycling process, its benefits, and the environmental effects of recycled lithium-ion batteries.
Why are lithium-ion batteries at the heart of EVs?
A lithium-ion battery is a type of rechargeable battery in which lithium ions move from anode (A) to cathode (C) during the discharge period and back from cathode to anode during the charging period. Along with phones and laptops, lithium-ion batteries have a wide range of applications in EVs.
Improved energy density, high discharge tolerance, long lifecycle, and recharging times with a low memory effect are some of the key advantages that make Li-ion batteries the first choice for use in EV applications.
Moreover, they also have a higher power-to-weight ratio, better high-temperature performance, higher energy efficiency, and lower self-discharge, which makes them efficient for use in electric vehicles. While components of lithium-ion batteries can be recycled mostly, the cost of material recovery is a great challenge for the automotive and battery manufacturing industry. The development of the battery manufacturing equipment market is led by the rising demand for electric vehicle batteries along with increasing consumer awareness of environmental issues.
According to the BIS Research report, the global battery manufacturing equipment market is projected to reach $88.09 billion by 2031 from $9.43 billion in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 27.12% during the forecast period 2022-2031.
What are the benefits of recycling Li-ion batteries?
Disposing of Li-ion batteries produces toxic substances, which serve as a hazard to the environment. Moreover, it pollutes water, negatively impacts wildlife, etc. Additionally, lithium-ion battery recycling assures several benefits:
• As per environmentalists, battery recycling can help recover expensive materials. Metals used as cathodes, including nickel and cobalt, are two commonly expensive metals, and their prices have fluctuated over the years.
• In Li-ion batteries, the concentrations of manganese, lithium, along with nickel, and cobalt are high and often exceed the concentration of highly enriched ore. Thus, these metals might get recovered from end-of-life batteries on a large scale and can give the same benefits as natural ore.
• Recycling the batteries can help in the prevention of electronic waste from ending up in landfills.
• Around 50% of the cobalt used in EV batteries comes from countries such as Congo. Recycling lithium-ion batteries helps reduce the dependency on such materials while improving the security of the supply chain and reducing the human and environmental impact of these batteries.
How are Li-ion batteries recycled?
Qualified technicians who have high-voltage specialties are required to disassemble batteries into modules to use insulated tools while avoiding electrocution or short-circuiting during the recycling process.
Short-circuiting a lithium-ion battery can lead to overheating along with rapid discharge, which can generate noxious by-product gases, causing cell explosion.
After the explosion, technicians examine the healthy cells that can be reused for other applications and separate others that are appropriate for recycling.
While finding recycler e-waste, a quality check is a must, keeping in mind that the batteries should be safe to handle the recycling procedure.
Thus, recycled EV batteries are finally prepared for reuse.
Lithium-ion batteries are the preferred source of power for low-carbon technologies such as electric vehicles. Due to the quantity of energy produced by Li-ion batteries, they can be retained in a relatively small area, have high charging capabilities, and have the propensity to remain functional after hundreds of charge cycles. These batteries are an essential component of the present drive to reduce gas-powered automobiles that release carbon dioxide and other carbon pollution. Thus, recycling Li-ion batteries can be a great initiative toward sustainable energy.
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