Birth of Industry to Recycle Lithium Auto Batteries

Tesla Battery Recycling Remains />

The “fluff” remains after the Tesla Roadster’s lithium batteries are processed for recycling.

As automakers race toward bringing hybrid and electric cars into the mainstream, environmentalists worry about the ability to properly recycle the batteries that power those cars. Most industry analysts believe that we are a decade or more away from needing to recycle nickel or lithium auto batteries in significant volumes. Yet, the first lithium battery recycling plants are already being established.

Nikkei reported yesterday that Japan’s Nippon Mining & Metals Co. and GS Yuasa Corp. each plan to start collecting lithium ion batteries from scrapped electric and hybrid vehicles in order to recycle their lithium. Nippon developed technology that extracts lithium from the batteries, and plans to have its trial plant running as early as 2011. GS Yuasa, a major producer of automotive batteries, will begin collecting used lithium ion batteries from automakers in a few years to further develop its process of recycling based on how much lithium is used in different parts of the batteries.

Last month, the US Department of Energy granted $9.5 million to California-based Toxco to build America’s first recycling facility for lithium ion vehicle batteries. Today’s hybrids use nickel metal hydride batteries, but within a few years, automakers are expected to shift to lithium batteries for hybrids and plug-in cars. Lithium ion batteries can be lighter and smaller, while carrying more energy and providing more power.

Toxco is North America’s leading battery recycler and has been recycling single-charge and rechargeable lithium batteries found in electronics devices and industrial applications since 1992 at its Canadian facility in Trail, British Columbia. The company uses a detailed process involving freezing, crushing, dismantling, and purification via electrodialysis. The DOE grant will help Toxco transfer the Trail recycling process to its Ohio operations, laying the foundation for an advanced lithium battery recycling plant that can expand to meet expected rapid growth in the US electric car market.

To recycle the current generation of nickel-based hybrid batteries, carmakers dismantle every ounce and scrap of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and the wiring, to make sure the materials are processed for disposal. Carmakers offer a bounty to help ensure the battery is returned to a dealership and properly recycled.

Battery Economics

There is currently little economic need to recycle lithium ion batteries. Most batteries contain small amounts of lithium carbonate as a percentage of weight and the material is relatively inexpensive compared to most other metals, such as nickel and cobalt. As lithium battery packs become larger—and the number of hybrids and electric cars that use lithium batters expands—recycling will become more important and more profitable. Mainstream vehicles will have to begin using lithium ion batteries and run those batteries for at least several years before recycling becomes an issue.

Bolivia has the world’s largest supply of lithium—about 5.4 million tons in the Uyuni Desert alone. Chile has about 3 million tons and the United States owns about 750,000 tons. Despite media reports to the contrary, current demand for lithium is not likely to cause shortages.

Unlike caustic lead acid car batteries—which fortunately are recycled at rates approaching 99 percent—advanced lithium ion batteries do not use harmful acids or metals, such as lead, to store electrical power. Lithium ion batteries use copper, cobalt, iron and nickel that are considered safe for landfills and incinerators, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.


  • Dougbat

    The last paragraph fails to mention the rather nasty electrolytes going into the Li-ion batteries.
    And cobalt is safe for a landfill??

  • Think Green

    It’s good to see that someone is looking into recycling lithium otherwise, like a lot of other recyclable materials, they will end up in a landfill somewhere leaching into our water supply.

  • Anonymous

    That’s one of the positive attributes of the existing NiMh, they can be recycled effectively.

    Hopefully someone will figure out how Li Ion can be recycled as well or better than NiMh before massive use in vehicles.

  • Ghislain Van Damme – citoyen Belge et 200% bilingue

    It seems some people are really badly informed about what is existing industrially on the market. Umicore developed and is running a Lithium-Ion and NiMH battery recycling plant since May 2006. A few thousand of Metric tonnes were already recycled.
    It is a zero waste process, full eco-green and clean, with full recovery of Nickel and Cobalt, and generating a slag which is used for construction, ceramic or glass applications. Lithium recovery is not top urgent , but in this process the Lithium is valorized in other applications. Please visit http://www.batteryrecycling.umicore.com
    We have a drop-off point in Maxton North Carolina and a fully dedicated team in the USA for it.

  • Ghislain Van Damme

    I am referring to a few comment made on my remarks earlier.

    Please understand there is no Cobalt being landfilled ( nor Nickel, etc). Also the lithium is valorized although being in the lsag fraction of our process. Thus not for battery applications but for other applications where Lithium is used: Cement, Glass, ceramics, isolation materials such as stonewood.

    Concerning the “nasty” electrolytes as mentioned by one of you, they are treated with the gasses through our plasma technology whihc is destroying the halogens and avoidng any VOC formation. So we only release cleaned gas (which was ionized): H2, O, and CO2, but no bromines, no Fluorines, no Dioxines, no Chlorines.
    The process is really clean, a zero waste process. But still too many journalists are systematically ignoring this. Fortunately, the really concerned industrial companies, be it battery collectors, battery manufacturers and the HEV/EV industries did recognize the unique technology developed by Umicore. At least responsible professionals are contacting us and have their EOL Lithium-Ion, Lithium Polymer and NiMH recycled with Umicore Recycling Solutions.
    We offer a real closed loop , and zero waste – approach for critical battery materials, allowing a sustainable future to the HEV/EV and rechargeable batery world.

  • claudia

    ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • Recycle India

    Hi,

    We are Li-ion batteries recycling company in India. We need large quantity of scrap/used/waste Li-ion batteries on regular basis. Please quote your price either FOB or CIF Nhavasheva (Mumbai, India) along with the details of the quantity available and how much can your company provide us on monthly basis.

    My email id is jmehta129@gmail.com and my hand phone number is +91-9004496307.

  • SHYAM K BALWANI

    here in india one telecommunication company who have a 400 mt scrap of vrla batery cell and he put it to sale. so if you like purchase it please contact us we collect from them and export to you.

  • tapra1

    The DOE grant will help Toxco transfer the Trail recycling process to its Ohio operations, laying the foundation for an advanced lithium battery recycling plant that can expand to meet expected rapid growth in the US electric car market.Tech Updates

  • James Walker

    The process is really clean, a zero waste process. But still too many journalists are systematically ignoring this. Fortunately, the really concerned industrial companies, be it battery collectors, battery manufacturers and the HEV/EV industries did recognize the unique technology developed by Umicore. The live reading was equally exciting, as the cast was really good. Just some of the best improv, stand-up, and theater actors in town Burnaby Lawyers

  • Anonymous

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