Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) power our daily lives. Whether you use a cordless drill to complete your home renovations, drive an electric vehicle (EV), rely on stationary storage to offset peak demand at home, or read articles like these on your smartphone or laptop, LIBs are integral to the tools on which we rely.
Unlike common single-use alkaline batteries (like the AAA batteries in your TV remote or flashlight), LIBs are rechargeable. Even these batteries degrade, however. At the end of their lives, most LIBs are unsustainably disposed of in landfills and incinerators, and their valuable, critical mineral-based components are never used again. A smaller portion of LIBs are recycled – but some of those recycling processes aren’t environmentally friendly, safe, or economically sustainable.
As our world ditches harmful fossil fuels for mass-electrification powered by an increasingly renewable energy mix, LIBs will play a central role in this new, electrified, green economy. In the United States, we’ve grown accustomed to throwing away degraded LIBs, rather than salvaging their valuable components. We must reverse this trend before it’s too late. These batteries contain finite, critical materials: As LIB demand rises, we must responsibly recover and reintroduce these materials in order to create a sustainable advanced-battery supply chain.
In recent months, policymakers have become increasingly cognizant of the advanced-battery supply chain’s reliance on foreign mining and are contemplating corrective actions. For example, the US Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a blueprint to develop a more robust domestic advanced-battery supply chain. This blueprint will facilitate greater federal investment and help make the United States a leader in this emerging market. Developing our capacity to recover and recycle critical minerals from these batteries is a necessary step toward ensuring the global superiority of our advanced-battery supply chain.
Automakers and battery cell manufacturers have also realized the importance of advanced-battery supply chain self-sufficiency and are striving to address this urgent global challenge. ZETA recognizes that in order to achieve 100% EV sales in the United States by 2030, we must shore up our domestic end-to-end advanced-battery supply chain. ZETA has applauded the DOE’s recent actions and continues to call on Congress to invest in battery manufacturing by creating additional investment tax credits, which would provide support for manufacturers throughout the supply chain.
As a member of ZETA, Li-Cycle is leading the charge to meet the rapidly growing demand for critical mineral recycling and resource recovery. Li-Cycle is a cleantech company that uses revolutionary technology to recover critical materials from both end-of-life LIBs and waste products generated in battery manufacturing. Li-Cycle’s patented, innovative Spoke & Hub Technologies™ offer a safe, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly process that can recycle all types of lithium-ion batteries and recover up to 95% of all critical materials. Its overall process produces no wastewater, no direct emissions, and is the most energy-efficient process available commercially.
Li-Cycle has proved that it is well-equipped to help build a more sustainable future, and its industry partnerships amplify this potential. On May 11th, Li-Cycle announced an agreement with Ultium Cells LLC (a joint venture of General Motors and LG Energy Solutions) to recycle up to 100% of the waste products generated by battery-cell manufacturing at Ultium’s Lordstown, Ohio mega-factory. Li-Cycle will recover the raw critical materials contained in the waste and transform them into valuable products, thereby contributing to a cyclical advanced-battery supply chain. Recirculating production waste into the supply chain through this fit-for-purpose pathway marks a major milestone for the North American EV market. As Li-Cycle continues to form additional partnerships, the viability of a sustainable future for our world will become more feasible.
LIBs will be an increasingly vital power source as we build a sustainable future. We must recognize that these batteries still retain value at the end of their lives, and recycling them provides both economic and environmental benefits. While responsibly recycling the growing number of end-of-life batteries will require great effort, ZETA and Li-Cycle stand ready to meet this challenge.