Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Limited (CATL), China’s largest maker of EV batteries, will invest $32 billion renminbi, or about $5 billion, in a new plant to unmake them.
Chinese law requires battery makers to recycle their products when consumers have used them up and CATL is planning to make the most out of that directive.
CATL already owns Hunan Brunp, now the country’s largest battery recycler, processing more than 6,000 tons annually, the company claims.
But that’s not good enough: the country dumped 200,000 of spent EV batteries in 2020 as the earliest EV models used up their power packs, according to CnEVPost, a “new energy vehicle” industry website based in China.
Now, China’s transition to EVs mandated by the government, and the more than 200 EV models in China’s car showrooms, foreshadow as many as 780,000 tons of used batteries a year by 2025, CnEVPost reported.
CATL’s new disassembly plant will reclaim and reprocess lithium iron phosphate, lithium cobaltate, graphite, and phosphoric acid, all of which can be put into new batteries, slashing the need to mine and process new metals.
Redwood Materials, launched by J.B. Straubel, Tesla’s former chief technology officer, is a U.S. analog to CATL’s project.
Up to 95 percent of a spent lithium-ion battery’s ingredients can be reclaimed and reused, he told The Wall Street Journal.
His company also will recycle plastic battery cases, according to Straubel.
Because raw materials make up about 75 percent of the cost of EV batteries, recycling will be cheaper than mining and refining new metals and chemicals, which should make batteries—and thus EVs—cheaper, he said.
Recycling “is a chance to change [the] whole equation and to realize material cost savings,” Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, told the WSJ.
According to Moores, the volume of battery materials being salvaged and reprocessed annually by 2025 could have a market value of as much as $1.5 billion, including:
- 64,000 tons of lithium
- 96,000 tons of graphite
- 45,000 tons of nickel
- 18,000 tons of cobalt
- 22,000 tons of manganese
Volkswagen’s battery recycling center in Germany prides itself on not taking batteries apart the usual way, which involves throwing them into a blast furnace and melting everything.
Instead, VW’s alternative—the result of a ten-year development program—first discharges and dismantles a battery’s outer layers, reclaiming cables, casings, and other easy pickings.
The remainder is crushed, with the escaping liquid electrolyte turning what’s left into a wet mess that next is dried into a black powder. A partner chemical company then uses water and solvents to separate out the cobalt, lithium, and other individual materials to be sent back to battery production lines.
BASF, another German company, is building its own battery recycling shop in Brandenburg, close to Tesla’s new assembly plant. Gigafactory is located.
BASF’s recycling line will shave 60 percent of the carbon emissions from producing cathode materials, the company projects.
Companies that make batteries and EVs have expressed concern that recycled materials won’t perform as well as newly-mined and processed materials.
However, a new study from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute shows that battery components made from recycled materials perform just as well as, and in some cases better than, newly mined metals and minerals.
TRENDPOST: As an essential part of the auto industry’s future—cutting costs, ensuring supplies, and slashing toxic waste—battery recycling will become an industry in itself, creating opportunities for investors and OnTrendpreneurs.