Recycling cars’ lithium batteries is more complicated than you might think

Image of batteries superimposed on a recycling graphic.

Enlarge / Challenges scale
considerably when the battery pack weighs 300kg. (credit:
City of San Diego

Lithium batteries have become incredibly popular for electronic
devices, and the emphasis on weight and size for those batteries
means that the amount of raw materials tied up in them isn’t too
large. But that’s absolutely not the case for the other growing use
of lithium batteries: electric vehicles. These lithium batteries
weigh hundreds of kilograms and contain a substantial amount of raw
materials, some of which can be quite valuable.

Due to the relative youth of the automotive electrical-battery
market, however, an organized recycling industry is only just now
developing, and it faces significant technical hurdles before
recycling becomes both widespread and economical. In today’s issue
of Nature, a group of researchers take a look at possible means of
recycling and considers how to get the most value out of
electric-vehicle batteries after they’re no longer performing well
enough to run a car.

Before recycling

The authors of the analysis make one thing clear up front: the
majority of the cost of a lithium-ion battery isn’t in the raw
materials. Instead, the cost is in the manufacturing needed to
transform those raw materials into something that can function in a
battery, then getting them into a structure that combines
durability, performance, and safety. Thus, there’s more value in
having a lower-performing battery than there is in breaking the
battery apart to get at its materials.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Recycling cars’ lithium batteries is more complicated than you might think