The battery economy is booming, and with it a recycling industry is bracing itself for a wave of battery waste.
Battery Resourcers of Worcester, Massachusetts, said last week that it is planning to build a plant in Georgia that will be capable of recycling 30,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year. It will be the largest battery recycling plant in North America when it opens later this year.
But its reign will be brief because Li-Cycle, based in the Toronto area, is building an even larger battery recycling plant near Rochester, New York, that is scheduled to open in 2023. The company said last month that it is modifying its plans in a way that increases the plant’s size, a response to forecasts of high demand for recycling.
To help understand what’s happening, I reached out to Jeff Spangenberger, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and also director of the ReCell Center, a collaboration between the government and industry to improve battery recycling technologies.
“If the process is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t make battery materials from the battery materials,” he said.
For him, the development of a battery recycling industry is one of the most important and exciting parts of the transition to clean energy.
It’s important because the growth of electric vehicles and battery storage systems will eventually lead to millions of tons of batteries that are unusable unless they are recycled. And it’s exciting because researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up with cost-effective ways to reuse most of that waste.
The recycling industry is changing and growing to prepare for a projected five-fold increase in the amount of lithium-ion batteries available for recycling globally by 2030, according to figures from Li-Cycle and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
Lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric vehicles, battery storage and consumer electronics. The batteries contain rare and expensive metals like cobalt and nickel.
As companies manufacture more batteries, governments and environmental advocates have growing concerns about environmental damage from across the battery lifecycle, including the mining of metals to manufacture batteries, and the pollution that happens when old batteries end up in landfills.