The responsible disposal and recycling of electrical items such as batteries is a key challenge for the waste industry, and even more so when it comes to lithium batteries. These are increasingly used in the automotive industry to power electric cars and aircraft. But their use is not without difficulty, and both the aforementioned industries have encountered safety hazards when using them.
Like any other batteries, lithium batteries have a finite life, and can be dangerous when dismantled, so disposing of them is a particular challenge which will require dedicated facilities and expertise. There is growing interest in this area. The AcuComm waste investment database currently holds 39 projects involving the recycling of lithium batteries. These have a combined estimated value of US$1,039 million, or around US$27 million each.
The largest number are in Europe, where there are 15 projects worth a total of US$599 million. A large proportion of this is accounted for by a large investment in Poland which is part-backed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Finland and Sweden are also major sites for investment currently. But there is also more global interest across north America and Asia, with the USA, Australia and Japan also featuring heavily in current investment plans.
Around 41% of projects, by value, are either currently operational or due to become so by the end of 2021. The rest are expected to become operational between 2022 and 2027. Given the popularity of electric vehicles in particular, we would expect to see a steady rise in the number of facilities being planned over the next few years.
Many of the companies involved in the sector at present are small and specialist in nature, although they often work in partnership with larger client firms in the automotive industry such as Nissan, Renault or Volkswagen. Their involvement is essential as they have an interest – not to say an obligation – to see the proper recycling of lithium batteries.