Li-ion batteries are revolutionising the world of energy, enabling the transition to renewables and electrifying transport. They help us lower carbon emissions, reduce dependency on depleting hydrocarbons, and clean the air in cities by decreasing the number of combustion cars on the streets. Unfortunately, replacing fuel tanks with half-tonne EV battery packs and building megawatt-sized energy storage installations has not solved all issues and has instead produced new ones.
Most of these relate to the use of critical raw materials (CRM) like cobalt and lithium, which are crucial in battery manufacturing, but at the same time suffer from supply risks, such as human rights violations and contamination of the environment at mining operations.
Over 1,000GWh of new Li-ion batteries will be placed on the EU market by 2030, with roughly 10% of this capacity installed in stationary energy storage systems and the rest used for battery electric vehicles. In the face of skyrocketing demand, the scarcity of battery materials, and Europe’s high import-dependency rate, the industry has been urged to increase the recycling capacity for Li-ion batteries and therefore, provide a supply of secondary raw materials. With a lifetime of 10-15 years, batteries that are currently installed are expected to reach their end-of-life (EoL) and will have to be properly handled. In 2030 alone, there will be more than 110,000 tonnes (or 25GWh) of these batteries in Europe.
Building new recycling plants is only part of the solution though.
Prior to recycling, the batteries will need to be collected, tested, transported, discharged, and dismantled. To portray the magnitude of the challenge, this means tens of thousands of heavy-duty trucks transporting EoL batteries every year.
That’s why a safe and efficient reverse supply chain is needed, and Europe has an opportunity to establish the safest and most sustainable lithium-ion battery value chain in the world. Efficient reverse logistics would significantly decrease the carbon emissions in the life cycle of Li-ion batteries, however, there are major bottlenecks that first must be tackled.
Piotr Grudzień, innovation consultant at Bax & Company, proposes a 4-step plan to improve the efficiency of Li-ion battery reverse logistics in Europe. Read the full insight on the Bax & Company website here.