Memo to Bill Shorten. Recycling lithium batteries

A contribution by RobK in comments. Worth a post in case people missed it. Mostly quoted but not block-quoted for easier reading.

Recycled lithium is 5 x the cost of mined lithium.

The Afterlife of Electric Vehicles: Battery Recycling and Repurposing

BY IER MAY 6, 2019

By 2040, more than half of new-car sales and a third of the global fleet—equal to 559 million vehicles—is projected to be electric. This poses serious challenges. Electric vehicle batteries typically must be replaced every seven to 10 years for smaller vehicles and three to four for larger ones, such as buses and vans. Declining performance for an electric vehicle battery is evidenced by fewer miles of driving per charge and more frequent plug-ins by owners. The global stockpile of these batteries is expected to exceed 3.4 million by 2025, compared with about 55,000 last year. This is almost a 62-fold increase in 7 years. Automobiles have overtaken consumer electronics as the biggest users of lithium-ion batteries. Because batteries contain toxic chemicals that should not be placed into a landfills, they need to be either recycled, which involves an intensive manufacturing process, or repurposed for other uses.

China has the largest electric vehicle market in the world and the largest number of electric vehicle manufacturers. Electric cars make sense in China because of its dense and crowded cities that often mean shorter driving distances. China, where about half the world’s electric vehicles are sold, has made carmakers responsible for expired batteries and the European Union also has regulations on battery disposal.


Batteries can be recycled, but recycling them is not easy due to the sophisticated chemical procedures involved. If not handled properly, the heavy metal contained in the battery can lead to contamination of the soil and water.

Batteries can be recycled through smelting, direct recovery, and other, newer processes. A smelting process is used to recover many minerals (e.g. lithium, cobalt, nickel) contained in the battery. After a battery is smelted, the lithium ends up as a mixed byproduct and extracting it is costly. While the cost of fully recycling a lithium-ion battery is about €1 per kilogram, the value of the raw minerals reclaimed from the process is only about a third of that. Another way to look at the cost of extraction of lithium from old batteries is that it is 5 times more expensive than mined lithium.

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14 Responses to Memo to Bill Shorten. Recycling lithium batteries

  1. stackja

    Why worry?
    ‘Science is settled’.
    Save the planet!
    Lots of OPM!

  2. Biota

    So this will end up like household recycling, very little recycled and huge piles of rubbish no one wants anything to do with. I wonder how the problems of massive stockpiles of batteries and solar cells compares with the big bogeyman of nuclear waste storage.

  3. Karabar

    Recycled by SMELTING?
    That requires huge amounts of energy.
    Probably supplied by coal or electricity.
    Pretending for a moment that atmospheric CO2 is any sort of issue, just how much CO2 is this electric car nonsense intended to “save”?

  4. calli

    Meanwhile the environment groans under tonnes of rubbish. We don’t see it here but it’s everywhere in the third world.

    But dirty coal!

    These guys aren’t serious. Follow the money.

  5. duncanm

    Plenty of lithium around.

    At the moment, Cobalt will be the real issue.

  6. Bruce

    And Cobalt is infinitely more useful when used in alloys for machine tools.

  7. Dr Fred Lenin

    We concerned greens will destroy the world to save it from warming ,it wont affect us of course , we live in the inner city ,our food comes from the supermarket .there are too many Useless mouths on the planet, we need a cull of the superflous population ,those who dont have a uni degree must go .

  8. Leo G

    Link to a research article by in the journal Energy Science and Engineering published by Chemical Industry Society (China) in October 2014 comparing processing costs in the manufacture of 4 types of lithium-ion cells.
    The modelled cost of these cells is varies between 230 and 400 $US per kWh of bulk capacity.

  9. Terry

    Why keep framing the argument as if you are dealing with good people of good faith who just haven’t been exposed to the relevant facts yet?

    These people are not good people, they are not of good faith. They could not care less about facts.

    They care only for their agenda of seizing power and becoming immensely wealthy at the expense of those they prey upon. These people are loyal to the cartels and cliques, not the country they take an oath to represent.

    Those that might be convinced by facts most likely already have them and need no convincing (just a steady stream of facts and information, as they emerge).

    Those whose power and wealth depend entirely on misinformation see those facts as an existential threat and will kill to prevent their exposure and denigrate those that disagree.

    The remainder that might be convinced also need no facts. They require an argument to emotion – the same style that has had them cheering for the yoke of enslavement – “Go Climate Change!”

  10. Kneel

    “Pretending for a moment that atmospheric CO2 is any sort of issue, just how much CO2 is this electric car nonsense intended to “save”?”

    Considering that, over a 160,000km lifetime, including manufacturing and re-cycling/disposal, a Toyota Prius emits more CO2 than a 5.7L V8 Commodore, it seems obvious that no saving is even possible and it’s all just virtue signalling. But we already knew that…
    If you blow the km out to, say, 320,000 it gets worse for the Prius.
    The only way to make the Prius look OK is to make the “total life” km 100,000 – and given that a 5.7 V8 Commodore will easily do 350+k km….
    So my own sap to the environment has been to buy a second hand 5.7L V8 commodore on LPG with about 240k km on it – cheaper to run than the old 3.5 V6 it replaces by about 25%.

  11. Tel

    Recycled lithium is 5 x the cost of mined lithium.

    Wow! That’s vastly more cost effective than Gladys Berejiklian’s plastic bottle recycling.

  12. Leo G

    … a Toyota Prius emits more CO2 than a 5.7L V8 Commodore …

    It gets worse.
    EV marketers don’t take into account the CO2 emissions or energy cost in producing the batteries, only the expected emissions associated with charging the batteries.
    Specs for the US Toyota Prius Plug-in include a 2 hour wallbox charge time at 3.7kW for a 39 mile electric range. In Australia at present that implies operating cost of 3 cents a kilometre from recharging (25 cents a kWh) and 6 cents a kilometre to cover the production cost of the batteries (assuming lithium-ion).

  13. Leo G

    Bill Shorten has promised that a Labor-Green government will introduce new vehicle emission standards which will ensure consumers are thereby significantly better off. The aim is to phase-in standards of 105g CO2/km (for vehicles with GVM less than 4 tonne) on advice from the Climate Change Authority.
    The nominated emission level of 105g CO2/km corresponds to the emissions from EVs like the Teslas, based on the emissions attributed to the source of electrical energy.
    A problem though. The standard does not account for the much larger emissions associated with battery production.

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