Why are Lithium Ion batteries difficult to recycle?


I was reading [this article](https://arstechnica.com/science/2022/04/lithium-costs-a-lot-of-money-so-why-arent-we-recycling-lithium-batteries/) and I was still a bit confused as to what the problem is. The article mentioned that only 1% of lithium ion batteries are recycled. The lithium batteries seem to be a huge controversy and downside to EVs because of the negative environmental impact. Making lithium ion batteries recyclable would be a huge gamechanger for EVs so I was wondering if someone who knew more could explain why.

In: 4

The article explains your exact question. Is there something in the article that you want more information on?

Recycling can be expensive. It will very likely need some legislative push to get it going. Despite the “big wave” in EVs (but still approx 9% of new car sales!), many EVs are relatively new and the recycling market is probably still not seeing a huge supply being established.

There is investment in the technology but it probably will take some time. Nothing is easy when it comes to scaling up potentially large industries with risky technologies involved, regardless of how “nice” or well intentioned it may sound.

The main issue is that the industry isn’t eatablished yet and therefore it isn’t profitable.

Right now supply for used lithium is low.

Starting a lithium recycling factory today would be a huge risk. You will need to invest in research/developement of an efficient recycling processes and buy machines wich is expensive, and if you are finally in the positive numbers is lithium even still the best technology?

If battery technology starts using a new material all your investment was wasted as you now have a huge supply but no more demand for the recycled lithium.

In a political statement: you can’t trust the free market to solve every problem, some problems are simply not guaranteed to be profitable when solved.

It’s not impossible, it’s the batteries are recyclable. The is more doing economically and on large scales.

You run in 3 basic issues

1) The batteries are integrated within devices that need to be disassembled. It’s one thing to recycle a million batteries, it’s a different thing to collect 1 million iphones, open them up, extract the hardwired batteries and *then* recycle them.

2) There are tons of different kinds of devices and batteries. Maybe you can design a machine than quickly extract the batteries from iPhones, but when about the next gen of iPhones? Androids? Chromebooks? Then multiple that by the different batteries themselves, maybe the machine rip apart any phone, but if the batteries you collect are all different then you need X number of machines to recycle all the different batteries themselves.

3) It requires effort on the part of individuals. Imagine the stink people make about recycling fluorescent light bulbs, now you’re going make me take my phones, my headphones, my garmin watches, my X box controllers, to a recycling center *everytime I want a new one?* Ugh.

They are being recycled. Companies buy used car batteries, remove faulty elements, package them again and sell them second hand.

The controversy mostly exist because people are unaware of that business.

If it is hard or not can be irrelevant. Lest assume it is not trivial to do and you need to develop ways to do it, that looks like the situation we are in. Recycling are done if you can make money on it or if there is a legal requirement. To that add time and changes in the amount of the products made.

So one major reason it is not done on the large scale is that Li-ion batteries are relatively new in large-scale usage so the plants that can do that have not yet been built and the technology to do it is not mature.

Li-ion batteries also have a smaller effect on the environment if disposed of incorrectly compared to lead-acid and the previous use of mercury and cadmium-containing batteries so there is not the same kind of regulation on how they are handled.


If you look at the amount of li-ion battery production you get [graphs like this](https://lghomebatteryblog.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Li-ion-Battery-Capacity-per-Chemistry-Global.jpg) To that you should add that the batteries will be in usage for a couple of years so there has not been a lot of Li-ion required to be recycled in the past compared to what will it required today.

Building the recycling plants take time and developing way to do it efficiently cost money. So there will not be large-scale recycling plants before there is enough batteries to recycle them in a cost-efficient way.

The cost of Lithium has increased in recent year and look like [https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/1txVI/2/#](https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/1txVI/2/#) so there has not been a huge incentive for private companies to invest in recycling. You get recycling set up by itself it can be done in a way that makes you money. The other way it occurs is if there are governmental requirements.

If you can make money from it changed with technological development but you need someone to invest the money, to begin with. Scale matters also so a larger supply of material to recycle can result in large and more cost-efficient recycling plants and the willingness to invest in research. The cost of the lithium you produce is also very important if it is profitable or not.

So more batteries that can be recycled and higher lithium costs can result in recycling developed by private companies, EU has regulations that require more and more of them to be recycled. That will increase recycling even if it is not profitable. I am not sure what drives the increase in battery recycling we see today, I would assume it is a combination of both.