How old batteries will help power the electric vehicles of tomorrow
Dismantling by hand won’t be ideal once the company starts absorbing more materials, says Andy Hamilton, vice president of manufacturing at Redwood. Eventually, Redwood hopes to further automate this sorting process, though building automated systems that can handle the variety of batteries the company uses will likely be a challenge.
After sorting and dismantling, batteries that still hold a charge can be loaded onto a conveyor belt and transported to one of four massive chambers for a process called calcination, where the batteries are fired at high temperatures to discharge them and dispose of them. solvents.
The material is then ground into a powder before entering the hydrometallurgical process to separate the individual elements.
Despite recent technical advances, recycling won’t meet the demand for battery materials anytime soon, says Alissa Kendall, an energy systems researcher at the University of California, Davis. As demand continues to grow exponentially, recycled batteries will at best account for around half of the nickel and lithium supply by 2050.
However, as battery chemistry evolves, this percentage could change, as is already the case with cobalt. Electric vehicle batteries contain less cobalt today than before, and cell manufacturers are continually finding ways to use even less of the expensive metal. As a result, recycled cobalt could represent 85% of the supply needed by 2040, according to Kendall.
While recycling cannot completely supplant mining, reducing the need for more mining could reduce the social and environmental burden of producing new batteries. Many battery metals are mined in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Mining in these areas is often associated with human rights abuses, including forced labor and child labor, as well as significant air and water pollution, according to the report. International Energy Agency.
Waiting for the battery tsunami
Some players in the battery recycling industry say the industry won’t need much political support because the battery materials will be valuable enough to warrant recycling. But recent political changes in the United States could give recyclers like Redwood a boost.
Since Redwood’s manufacturing facility is in the United States, the company may qualify for production tax credits under the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. The IRA will also stimulate demand for commodities from companies like Redwood. For cars to qualify for the $7,500 tax credits, automakers will need to source materials and manufacture their batteries in the United States or with free trade partners.