As countries throughout the world turn their focus to electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, the humble battery is enjoying a moment.
The use of efficient, long-lasting batteries is critical in the shift from gasoline to electric vehicles. However, the creation of batteries is dependent on the (limited) supply of a number of important minerals such as lithium and cobalt, which is already causing major world powers and companies to scramble to obtain these resources.
Only four countries contribute the majority of the world’s lithium: China, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. The supply of cobalt is considerably more concentrated, with the Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for 70% of the total.
As a result, it’s critical to find a new source of these minerals, such as by recycling old batteries.
“The more electric vehicles that are purchased and recycled, the more we can offset raw materials from the ground in the future and have a more sustainable source for raw materials,” stated Kunal Phalpher, who is the chief strategy officer (CSO) of Li-Cycle, a battery recycling company.
To cope with obsolete batteries, Li-Cycle, based in Toronto, is developing a “hub and spoke” system. Transporting hefty EV batteries, according to Phalpher, can be costly and difficult. The spokes of the corporation are smaller facilities that are nearer to where the batteries are produced, reducing transportation expenses.
Batteries are crushed into a “black mass” in Li-Cycle’s spoke facilities, then delivered to a central hub facility, which converts it into valuable minerals like cobalt, nickel, and lithium that may be recycled in batteries as well as other products.
The corporation has spoken facilities in Kingston, Ontario, and Rochester, New York, with more planned. In Rochester, it is constructing its first hub facility.
According to Phalpher, Li-Cycle can reclaim up to 95% of the components in outdated batteries.
EV batteries have a 10-year lifespan. By 2030, Phalpher predicts that a considerable percentage of Electric Vehicle batteries in Ontario will have reached the end of their lifespan.
Nikki Skuce, who co-authored research with the Pembina Institute about EV battery recycling policies in British Columbia last year, believes the provincial and federal governments should develop a strategy for old batteries.
“I think it’s fantastic to have all of these electric vehicle incentives and targets,” Skuce added. “However, we must consider the entire life cycle and invest today in that recycling capacity.”
Last month, the Ontario government announced a vital minerals policy. Its goals include encouraging mineral exploration in the province, strengthening mining regulations, and investing in R&D. The approach is tied to the government’s intention to encourage automakers to build electric vehicles in Ontario, with batteries made from minerals mined in the province.
Increased recycling capability would reduce Ontario’s and Canada’s reliance on mining — or even importing — these minerals.