In conversations with car people, one of the first questions I get asked is — how fast can it go? But when I am with environmental groups the main question is always — what happens to the batteries? The recent Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) report provides a very good overview. (See here and here for some coverage of this report.)
“Currently, Australia has a very low rate of recycling batteries other than lead acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries currently comprise approximately 90% of end of life batteries by weight. However, it is predicted that end of life lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles and battery energy storage systems will ‘grow sharply’ over the next decade and from 2040 will exceed lead-acid batteries.
“There are well-established processes for the collection of lead-acid batteries in Australia and the local reprocessing industry is well developed. However, lead-acid battery recycling technology is not transferable to lithium-ion batteries due to the differences in materials.
“A small number of lithium-ion battery recycling facilities are currently operating in Australia. These companies collect, discharge and disassemble lithium-ion batteries, with some also crushing and granulating materials into a ‘black mass’ prior to exporting overseas for further reprocessing.
“The lithium-ion battery re-use and refurbishment industry is currently at a very fledgling stage. Battery recycling is a priority for all levels of government in Australia, with the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019 identifying batteries as a priority for product stewardship. The Battery Stewardship Council have since developed a national, voluntary Battery Stewardship Scheme with industry and other stakeholders due to begin operating in early 2022. Under the Scheme, a levy will be applied to imported batteries that is visibly passed onto consumers. The levy will be used to fund a rebate system for service providers accredited for battery collection, sorting and processing. The Scheme will begin with loose and handheld batteries and those not sealed inside a product before further consultation to also include electric vehicle batteries and batteries from energy storage systems into the Scheme.”
Economies that are further advanced in the EV rEVolution could also provide guidance as to future reuse and recycling options. Small businesses are springing up in Europe for the reuse of EV batteries for home use or mini grid applications. Most automakers also seem to be building in a recycling component to ensure compliance with society’s demands for a climate-friendly solution. Even though Australia is edging towards a 3% penetration of EVs in the new car market, the lifespan of newer batteries will not be known for some time.
Once again, it is good to see government planning for the future by identifying training needs for battery recycling.
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