Li-Cycle is pleased to announce the release of a corporate video, highlighting our journey in addressing the growing opportunity and challenge of lithium-ion battery recycling.
In order to slow and reverse the effects of climate change, we evidently need to transition away from a carbon-based economy. Electrification and storing energy using li-ion batteries are key parts of that puzzle. But what will happen to millions of li-ion batteries when they die? Li-Cycle CEO and Co-Founder, Ajay Kochhar, poses this question at the start of the video.
Fade in Productions visited our team to film Li-Cycle Technology™ - our validated, patent-pending and environmentally friendly recycling solution for li-ion batteries. The technology has successfully produced battery-grade chemicals from spent li-ion batteries of all chemistries and formats. These enduring products can be directly reintroduced to the li-ion battery supply chain, or in the broader economy.
Li-ion batteries are used in a variety of applications due to the high electrochemical potential of lithium, enabling their application for electro-mobility. The substantial investment in li-ion batteries continues to result in rapidly decreasing unit costs. As a result, li-ion batteries are increasingly being leveraged in stationary energy storage systems. Intermittent renewable power sources such as wind (e.g. the wind farm shown at 01:20 near Shelburne, Ontario, Canada) and solar continue to be enabled by low cost li-ion battery storage.
Ajay Kochhar explains that today, only 5% of spent li-ion batteries reach recycling facilities globally. The remaining 95% often reach landfills or are dangerously stockpiled in many cases. Smelting followed by refining is the currently best available technology for recycling li-ion batteries. These processes, however, often have unprofitable unit economics, cannot recover lithium economically, and are limited by maximum recycling efficiencies of 30-40%.
Spent li-ion batteries pose a health and safety threat due to the potential for toxic heavy metals to be released into the environment if disposed in landfills or if recycled by artisanal/small-scale operations. A short clip in the video (at 00:38), courtesy of Battery Council International, shows an actual explosion that occurred at a lead acid battery recycling facility when a li-ion battery was mistakenly fed to the operation. This near-miss highlights the dangers of improper battery handling techniques and consequences that could result from even a single li-ion battery falling into the wrong recycling stream. As the spent li-ion battery volume surges due to large format applications (e.g. in electric vehicles), rapidly growing challenges regarding the safety of spent li-ion battery handling must be addressed through advanced supply chains.
As the world moves towards electrified transport, the demand for lithium, cobalt, and other raw battery materials is also growing to unprecedented levels. Lithium chemical supply continues to lag behind surging demand, driven by battery applications for lithium. Other critical battery materials, such as cobalt chemicals, continue to experience supply chain challenges. Over 60% of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Cobalt production in the DRC has been documented to involve child labour, raising questions about supply chain transparency and social responsibility. Li-Cycle has a significant opportunity to be a near-term supplier of uniquely 100% recycled cobalt, with a completely transparent and ethical supply chain.
To solve these unaddressed needs, Li-Cycle is rapidly executing based on a three-step Master Plan:
Li-Cycle is on a mission to revolutionize the battery recycling industry with a technology that enables up to 100% battery chemical recovery and raw materials, leaving no waste. In turn, Li-Cycle aims to enable the momentum behind the global transition to electro-mobility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
"Rise of electric cars poses battery recycling challenge"
Porsche's planned fully electric vehicle, the Mission E (Source: Clean Technica/Porsche)
Li-Cycle has been quoted in a second article in the Financial Times - this piece is specifically focused on the recycling challenges posed by electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries. Direct quotes from Li-Cycle are bolded in the excerpts provided below.
The full article is also available here.
"As electric cars roll towards the motoring mainstream, companies are gearing up to address one big environmental question: what to do with the lithium-ion batteries used to power them once they run out?
The batteries used in electric cars are much bigger, last eight to 10 years, and will account for 90 per cent of the lithium-ion battery market by 2025, Roskill forecasts, increasing lithium demand fourfold and more than doubling demand for cobalt — two of their essential elements. The price of cobalt has already risen by more than 80 per cent this year.
Canadian recycling start-up Li-Cycle says to make [lithium-ion battery recycling] profitable you need to recycle all of the battery materials. It claims it can recycle all types of lithium-ion batteries recovering [greater than] 90 per cent of materials including lithium, cobalt, copper, and graphite.
“You get the full economic value . . . that’s what will enable it to be profitable,” said Ajay Kochhar, the company’s chief executive and co-founder. “You need to look at it [in terms of] all the other valuable components contained to really understand what is going to enable this market.”
Mr Kochhar estimates over 11m tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries will be discarded by 2030. The company is looking to process 5,000 tonnes a year to start with and eventually 250,000 tonnes — a similar amount to a processing plant for mined lithium, he said."
"The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem"
New electric vehicles parked in a parking lot under a viaduct in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province (Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Li-Cycle has been featured in a piece in The Guardian focused on the substantial battery waste problem that the rise of electric vehicles could create. Information and direct quotes provided by Li-Cycle are included in the excerpts below.
The full article is available here.
“The drive to replace polluting petrol and diesel cars with a new breed of electric vehicles has gathered momentum in recent weeks. But there is an unanswered environmental question at the heart of the electric car movement: what on earth to do with their half-tonne lithium-ion batteries when they wear out?
The number of electric cars in the world passed the 2m mark last year and the International Energy Agency estimates there will be 140m electric cars globally by 2030 if countries meet Paris climate agreement targets. This electric vehicle boom could leave 11m tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling between now and 2030, according to Ajay Kochhar, CEO of Canadian battery recycling startup Li-Cycle.
However, in the EU as few as 5% (pdf) of lithium-ion batteries are recycled. This has an environmental cost. Not only do the batteries carry a risk of giving off toxic gases if damaged, but core ingredients such as lithium and cobalt are finite and extraction can lead to water pollution and depletion among other environmental consequences.
Umicore, which has invested €25m (£22.6m) into an industrial pilot plant in Antwerp to recycle lithium-ion batteries…Grynberg says: “We have proven capabilities to recycle spent batteries from electric vehicles and are prepared to scale them up when needed.”
Problem solved? Not exactly. While commercial smelting processes such as Umicore’s can easily recover many metals, they can’t directly recover the vital lithium, which ends up in a mixed byproduct. Umicore says it can reclaim lithium from the byproduct, but each extra process adds cost.
This means that while electric vehicle batteries might be taken to recycling facilities, there’s no guarantee the lithium itself will be recovered if it doesn’t pay to do so.
This is not the only alternative. Li-Cycle is pioneering a new recycling technology using a chemical process to retrieve all of the important metals from batteries. Kochhar says he is looking to build a [first phase commercial plant] to [process] 5,000 tonnes of batteries a year through this this “wet chemistry” process."
"Electric car growth sparks environmental concerns"
The Mutanda copper-cobalt mine, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Source: Youtube)
Li-Cycle has been featured in a Financial Times article focused on the environmental impacts of the growth of the electric vehicle industry. An excerpt including reference to Li-Cycle is provided below:
“To offset the environmental impact of mining there will have to be a large build out in recycling facilities to meet the first wave of electric vehicles, analysts say. Currently over 90 per cent of lead-acid batteries used in conventional gasoline cars are recycled, versus less than 5 per cent of lithium-ion batteries. An estimated 11 [million] tonnes of spent lithium-ion battery packs will be discarded between now and 2030, according to Canada-based Li-Cycle, a recycler of batteries.”
The full article is available here.
As the lithium-ion battery market continues to scale rapidly worldwide, Li-Cycle is enabling environmentally friendly and economic end-of-life handling for lithium-ion batteries. We're on a mission to ensure that electric vehicles have a truly positive environmental impact over their entire life cycle.
At present, less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled globally. The existing best available technology is pyrometallurgical (i.e. high temperature treatment) and involves recycling through smelters. This method recovers metal alloys, such as copper and cobalt, but diverts critical components such as lithium to waste streams (i.e. slag from the furnace(s) in these applications). At present, slag is generally sold to the construction industry for use as road base, and lithium is not economically recoverable.
Given that the world is presently facing a near-term deficit of lithium and cobalt chemical supply for li-ion battery manufacturing, this gap emphasizes a substantial opportunity for global positive impact. This article helps answer some of the common questions regarding spent li-ion batteries and why advanced li-ion battery recycling technology is needed.
Why do lithium-ion batteries become ‘spent’?
As a battery charges and discharges, lithium ions move in and out of the anode and cathode. During this electrochemical reaction, a lithiated anode (e.g. graphite with lithium inside) and a transition metal oxide missing lithium are formed. Both the lithiated anode and transition metal oxide are very reactive. These transition materials have been scientifically proven to experience undesirable ‘parasitic reactions’ with the electrolyte solution.
The anode particularly experiences these parasitic reactions, and results in a solid product that deposits on the anode surface at nanoscale. Over time, this forms a passivating film that slows down and limits further electrochemical reactions. This reduces the lithium-ion battery’s ability to deliver energy and eventually causes the battery to become ‘spent’.
What’s the average lifetime for lithium-ion batteries?
The expected lifetime of a lithium-ion battery in large format applications (e.g. automotive, energy storage system) is typically 8 to 10 years. For small format applications such as consumer electronics (e.g. mobile phones), the expected lifetime of a lithium-ion battery is typically 2-3 years.
How are spent lithium-ion batteries handled today?
At present, less than 5% of spent li-ion batteries are currently recycled globally. Moreover, existing li-ion battery recycling method unit economics are often unprofitable and strategic components such as lithium are not recovered.
The best available technology today is smelting or pyrometallurgy (e.g. using a furnace), which primarily recovers metal alloys (typically cobalt and copper). Via pyrometallurgy, lithium in the spent li-ion batteries is lost in the slag/waste stream from the furnace. The slag is generally sold to the construction industry for use as road base and the lithium is not recoverable economically.
Why is advanced lithium-ion battery recycling technology necessary?
The world is fast approaching a 'wall' of spent li-ion batteries. An estimated 11+ million tonnes of spent li-ion battery packs will be discarded between 2017 and 2030. If landfilled, toxic metals in spent li-ion batteries pose a substantial risk for soil and water. Moreover, increased greenhouse gas/CO2 emissions will be released globally if the materials contained in spent li-ion batteries are not recycled and reused.
Li-ion battery recycling is the necessary path to ensure clean air, soil and water globally. Li-Cycle™ is a recycler of li-ion batteries and has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by >1.2 billion equivalent tonnes of CO2 between 2017 and 2040.
Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly powering our world in automotive, consumer electronic, and industrial energy storage applications. The recent li-ion battery boom is being primarily driven by automotive applications in consumer vehicles (e.g. Tesla, Nissan, GM) and large format applications such as electric buses (e.g. BYD). The automotive industry alone is expected to overtake lithium-ion battery demand for consumer electronic applications by 2020.
Given lithium batteries’ rise to prominence over the past two decades, our team tends to receive a lot of questions about the lithium battery industry in general. This article should help answer some of these common questions.
What are lithium-ion batteries?
Lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries are a type of rechargeable battery in which lithium ions drive the electrochemical reactions. Lithium ions move from the negative electrode (anode) to the positive electrode (cathode) during discharge and back when charging.
Why lithium – why not another element?
Lithium is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density for weight.
What are lithium-ion batteries used for?
Li-ion batteries are increasingly powering our world in automotive, consumer electronic, and industrial energy storage applications. The recent li-ion battery boom is being primarily driven by automotive applications in consumer vehicles (e.g. Tesla) and large format applications such as buses. The automotive industry alone is expected to overtake lithium-ion battery demand for consumer electronic applications by 2020, per Roskill.
How large is the market for lithium-ion batteries?
The global lithium-ion battery market is projected to grow to US$ 210 billion by 2030 at a rapid rate of 17% per year, per Exane BNP Paribas.
What is a lithium-ion cell?
Lithium-ion battery cells consist of four key components:
How are lithium-ion batteries structured?
Lithium-ion batteries can be found in large format (e.g. automotive, energy storage systems) and small format (e.g. consumer electronic) applications. Modularized li-ion battery packs are typically structured as follows:
What raw materials are used to make lithium-ion batteries?
A breakdown of the raw materials in a spent li-ion battery pack is provided below (kg material/kg li-ion battery pack). This is based on a weighted average of mixed format and mixed cathode chemistry li-ion battery packs: