Why your iPhone 17 might come with a recycled battery

Why your iPhone 17 might come with a recycled battery

Why your iPhone 17 might come with a recycled battery

The rapid adoption of electric vehicles is great news for climate action, but it creates tricky dynamics for battery recyclers.

Batteries can last over a decade in a vehicle, and they can be used even longer if they end up getting a second life in stationary energy storage. So an EV battery won’t be ready to be recycled for at least about 15 years, in most cases. 15 years ago, in 2008, the Tesla Roadster had just started production and the company only made a few hundred a year for the first two years. To put it mildly: there aren’t many EVs going off the road due to old age today, and there won’t be for some time to come.

As the electric vehicle market continues to grow exponentially, there will be a shortage of recycled materials. If all manufacturers of electric vehicles and phones wanted to use only recycled cobalt, for example, there wouldn’t be enough for everyone.

Battery production for electric vehicles is booming: the global total of lithium-ion batteries produced for light vehicles could exceed 12 million metric tons by 2030. Meanwhile, less than 200,000 metric tons of batteries from the same types of vehicles will be available for recycling on that date.

Despite this daunting discrepancy, there are several reasons why Apple can probably meet its recycled cobalt commitment, says Hans Eric Melinmanager of Circular Energy Storage, a consulting firm specializing in battery recycling.

For one, portable devices have been powered by lithium-ion batteries for decades. Thanks to your dad’s camcorder and your 2006 Motorola Razr flip phone, there’s at least some recycled cobalt circulating on the market today.

And the economics of using recycled materials turn out to be quite different for personal devices and cars. Due to its size, an EV battery can represent almost 40% of the cost of the vehicle, says Melin. That’s not the case with devices like a phone, so a company like Apple could probably pay a bit more for recycled battery materials without affecting the price of the whole device.

So your iPhone in 2025 (according to my calculations, it could be the iPhone 17) could be made from cobalt from recycled sources. Vehicles can take a little longer: EV batteries are bigger and there are fewer old ones ready for a new life. But we’re moving towards a world where we can reuse more materials in the technology we know and love.


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