June 23, 2022: More mining of raw materials is needed to supply lithium ion battery manufacturers because “recycling alone cannot meet demand”, the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference in Mainz was told on June 13.
Wood Mackenzie research analyst Max Reid said recycling can relieve some pressure from the supply deficit of battery raw materials, but “with rapid expansion in the battery supply chain, we have created a situation of high waste.
“There needs to be a push in expanding virgin sourcing while maximising the recycling sector to ease the deficit,” Reid said. “Invest in mines now.”
According to Wood Mackenzie, global cumulative lithium ion battery capacity could rise more than five-fold to 5,500GWh between 2021 and 2030 as the electrification of the transportation sector has caused a boom in demand.
Reid said recycling could reduce rapid expansion in carbon-intensive mines as well as reduce waste.
Recycling production scrap and end of life batteries could become a substantial source of raw material to meet surging demand. Recycling also presents an opportunity to source materials in regions that lack natural resources.
Annual demand for key battery raw materials stands at 97 kilotonnes for lithium, 186kt cobalt and 3,014kt nickel, according to Wood Mackenzie.
By 2030, these are expected to grow to 318kt, 264kt and 4,273kt, respectively. Supply from recycled materials, “though paling in comparison”, should reach 130kt for lithium, 112kt cobalt and 377kt nickel, by the end of the decade.
At present, the challenges of recycled battery raw materials seem insurmountable, Reid says.
“Most of the discussion has been around the collection and recycling of end-of-life electric vehicles, but the process is plagued with challenges.
“First, the cathode, which contains critical metals in the EV pack, is overpackaged with pack materials such as casings, interconnects, cooling channels and others. The result is a tedious recycling process with little value.”
Coupled with an industry push to use lower value materials, the move towards larger-sized EV packs is also a deterrence against recycling due to lower throughput while containing lower value materials.
Second, EV packs have long warranties and lifetimes. “Recovering critical metals from them will be a long-term affair. In addition, the emergence of second-use applications, like residential or industrial energy storage, will also keep end-of-life EVs from entering the recycling system.”
Battery manufacturing capacity globally is forecast to grow 3.5 times to more than 4,600GWh by 2030, with China leading the way, said Reid.