Lithium-Ion (LI-Ion) Battery Recycling Market – Why Is It Important?
Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Battery (LIB) Recycling Market is primarily driven by the growing cognizance of deleterious effects of mining cobalt, graphite, and lithium, among others on the environment and the communities which in turn cater to the growing demand for LIBs that finds its application in a variety of end-use industries like automotive, communication and technology, consumer electronics and energy and power, among others. With the ever-increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) which has recently exploded, a spate of spent LIBs that once powered those cars have ensued. Before the surge of EVs are delved into its pertinent go back a bit further and examine the root of it all. Since the start of the industrial revolution, anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have resulted in high atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO²), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). The aforesaid along with a variety of sources of GHG emissions has been the dominant cause of observed warming of the climate system since the mid-19th century.
Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index
Source: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)
The aforementioned is an illustration of the change in global surface temperature with regards to average temperatures of 1951-1980. Except for 1998, 19 out of 20 warmest years have occurred since 2001. In response to the rising temperature, the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) members had reached a landmark agreement in 2015 aka The Paris Agreement to mitigate the impacts of climate change to expedite and increase the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon economic growth path. According to certain estimates failure to reduce or stabilize global CO² emissions and other GHG is poised to lead to economic losses which would be in the order of USD 2 billion per day by 2030. Further extreme weather patterns and events resulting from the warming of the climate system are most likely to affect the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially that of Goal 13, which outlines the imperatives of taking actions to stop climate change and mitigate the effects of climate change. Hence in an endeavor to minimize fossil fuel-based energy emissions, which is one of the means of combating climate change among others, transforming fossil-based energy consumption to greener sources of energy, has emerged as a global priority. Thus, to facilitate the aforementioned, the means of decarbonization of energy consumption Viz. introduction of renewable energy systems e.g., wind turbine and photovoltaic systems and lately rechargeable energy storage batteries which are employed by households, electric vehicles as well as consumer electronics manufactures, have already been set in motion.
The surge in the demand for LIBs and the resultant adverse environmental impacts are poised to propel the Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Battery Recycling Market growth
The market for LIBs is rapidly growing due to its cost and efficiency advantages over other types of rechargeable batteries. It is partly driven by the concerns mentioned above along with policy incentives made available by various national governments and a growing market for EVs. The obverse side of this development is the surge in the demand for the raw materials needed for manufacturing these batteries which encompasses a wide range of metals and minerals like cobalt, copper, graphite, lithium, manganese, and nickel which have been often defined as strategic and critical raw materials since (a) presently they have few substitutes, (b) they are not widely distributed around the world, (c) they are integral to the production of LIBs hence provide energy security and (d) the dearth of these raw materials would adversely affect a country’s economy or national security. This surge has presented challenges towards the ascertainment of the manner in which these raw materials are sourced because the extraction of these raw materials is often coupled with undesirable environmental footprints. For instance, the mining of some of these materials necessitates the processing of metal-sulfide ores which is not only energy-intensive but also leads to pollution because of the emission of SOx which can lead to acid rain, among others. And mining itself includes the extraction of virgin materials which increases the resultant depletion of these raw materials. Further, along with having negative environmental effects even before LIBs are manufactured, they are also harmful to the environment at the end of their lives. For instance, the raw materials contained in LIBs can leak from their casings that have been disposed-off, and lead to soil and groundwater contamination which threatens the entire ecosystem. Thus, recycling the LIBs would not only prevent such raw materials from going to landfills and contaminating the environment but also has the potential of reducing the mining of virgin material. The latter is also partially substantiated by the fact that in a few varieties of LIBs the concentration of raw materials that comprise lithium and manganese exceed the concentrations in natural ores making spent LIBs akin to highly enriched ore.
Cobalt Ores and Concentrates, Dr Congo (Exports)
In Thousands of US Dollars
Source: International Trade Centre
The recycling of LIBs also has the potential to address the political costs and its disadvantages
For instance, according to a 2018 report by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation that is headquartered in Australia, 50 % of global Cobalt production takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before this aspect is further delved into it is important to note that Cobalt is utilized in the cathode of LIBs like LCO (Lithium cobalt oxide, LiCoO2) which has applications in cameras, laptops, mobile phones, and tablets due to its high energy density which makes it essential in portable electronics. Besides, more recently, cobalt has emerged inseverable in chemistry variant like that of NMC (Lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide, LiNiMnCoO2) which has become integral to electric vehicle (EV), thus the automotive industry because when combined with lithium manganese imparts high energy burst enabling long-range drive. It is also used in energy storage, medical devices, power tools. Now coming back to the aspect of being mined of cobalt in Congo, it is associated with armed conflict, human rights abuses, and illegal mining, apart from harmful environmental practices. Thus, concerning the political costs mentioned earlier, recycling LIBs along with investments in formulating cathodes with a reduced concentration of cobalt can reduce the dependence on such complicated foreign sources and enhance the security of the supply chain.
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