There is a growing movement to transition our economy from “make and waste” towards a “cradle to cradle” philosophy. Cradle-to-cradle is the term used in life-cycle analysis to describe a material or product that is recycled into a new product at the end of its life, so creating a circular economy and ultimately driving down waste. In essence, this means designing and manufacturing products so that they can be used, repurposed and used again, then finally recycled.
Given the environmental impact of mining the precious metals required to create lithium batteries, there is a strong case for finding ways to reuse or recycle these products. Unfortunately, the business case for recycling often does not stack up, leading to a market still in its very infancy and most lithium batteries from consumer electronics going to landfills.
A recent study¹ by the Journal of the Indian Institute of Science found that only 1% of lithium batteries are recycled in Europe and North America, compared to 99% of lead-acid batteries.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the total global capacity for recycling EV batteries is just 180,000t per year. It warns that, by 2040, there could be 1,300 gigawatt hours’ worth of batteries no longer suitable for EV use, far exceeding the recycling industry’s current capabilities.