Battery recycling for electric cars is not an easy business model. Whilst more US companies are interested in recycling of electric car batteries, a recent article in the New York Times exposed the pitfalls. Also, according to their research, it could be a decade or more before enough used lithium -ion batteries become available to support the industry.
Importantly, the US government has highlighted the importance of recycling of electric car batteries to the future of the industry. Metals like cobalt, lithium and nickel can be efficiently recycled. By developing this industry and efficiently recycling those batteries past their prime supply, they become the ingredients for new ones. Electric cars, trucks and vans would become more affordable and environmentally sustainable.
Electric car sales taking off
US sales of electric cars and trucks are taking off. Tesla who has been selling electric cars since 2008, up until 2017 were selling fewer than 100,000 cars per annum. Whilst there are sources to recycle hybrids and consumer electronics, supply is currently limited and collection challenging. Observers feel this leaves recycling companies in a difficult position. It’s a balance of investing in factories, machinery and workers, or risk losing ground to competitors. Invest too quickly and you could erode your capital before aging batteries supply is sufficient to sustain the business model.
The major US recycling player, Redwood has raised more than $1 billion from investors. Redwood sees itself primarily as a producer of battery materials. It has established relationships with major car manufacturers.
The New York Times articles highlights the challenges of working with dismantlers, scrap yards and non-profit groups. First and foremost, the risk of fires is understood more widely in the US. Last but not least, the differences in model-to-model batteries makes taking them apart more complicated.
In Australia, Ecobatt are part of the integrated Ecocycle recycling group with operations in each state. The company has invested heavily in the latest European technology to ensure that in the Australian market the company will grow its recycling capability as more electric cars come online. The tipping point is still some years away, but the investments already made see Ecobatt at the forefront of car battery recycling.