With widespread application in electronic devices, electric vehicles, and large-scale grid storage, lithium-ion batteries have become ubiquitous in modern society. Growth projections for this market show no signs of slowing, particularly for segments within the energy transition. A new industry is now developing around the recovery of valuable minerals from spent lithium-ion batteries. Though still in its infancy, the battery recycling market is projected to see considerable growth over the next decade, reaching a value of 35 billion U.S. dollars by 2031.
Spent batteries: An untapped resource
Lithium-ion batteries contain a variety of minerals, some of them quite valuable. For example, average lithium carbonate prices have recently soared, reaching 37 thousand U.S. dollars per metric ton in 2022. As demand for battery materials is expected to continue growing over the next two decades, and with the security of mineral supply sometimes uncertain, battery scrap can represent a significant source of battery minerals. The volume of battery materials available for recycling worldwide is forecast to increase seven-fold between 2020 and 2030, to reach 1.4 million tons. By 2040, more than seven million tons are expected to be available.
While once prohibitively expensive, mechanical, pyrometallurgical, and hydrometallurgical processes have been developed that enable the cost-effective recovery of most of the materials present in lithium-ion batteries. In light of these developments, battery recycling capacity is on the rise across the globe, with China leading the market.
Notable players in a budding industry
Recent years have seen the entry of numerous firms specializing in lithium-ion battery recycling into the market. Founded in 2016, Toronto-based Li-Cycle is currently developing an extensive logistics network and recycling centers across two continents. By 2025, Li-Cycle expects to have a recycling capacity of 500 gigawatt hours in North America and 930 gigawatt hours in Europe. Even well-established companies are entering the recycling market. One of the largest lithium producers worldwide, Ganfeng Lithium planned to increase its recycling capacity to 25,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2023.
Governmental bodies are also playing a role in the development of the battery recycling industry, and legislation aimed at increasing the rate of battery recycling is taking shape in different parts of the world. One such example is the European Union’s proposed Regulatory Framework for Batteries, which would require 90 percent of cobalt, copper, lead, and nickel, as well as 50 percent of lithium to be recovered from batteries by 2027.
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Research lead covering environment and sustainability