Recycling Li-Ion Batteries

Sure, the electric vehicle market is growing. But there’s the non-trivial issue of critical materials for the batteries for all of those new cars, trucks and SUVs. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

Ajay Kochhar, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle, points out something that should give everyone a bit of pause when it comes to the burgeoning electric vehicle market: In 2013 there were three electric vehicle battery plants. In 2021 there are 225 existing on the way.

According to the Critical Materials Institute, which is under the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the definition of critical material is: “Any substance used in technology that is subject to supply risks, and for which there are no easy substitutes.”

Things like lithium used in batteries. Or nickel. Or cobalt.

Lots of battery plants. Not a whole lot of readily available—to say nothing of environmentally available (mining is not necessarily conducted in places where there is more concern with getting the stuff out of the ground than how that ground will be after the important stuff is removed in an environmentally benign manner)—critical materials.

Kochhar and his colleague Tim Johnson once worked on the lithium-extraction part of the business, Kochhar says on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” He also points out that there is a whole lot of work that occurs between the extraction of lithium and it ending up in a battery (here’s something amusing: cylindrical cells are sometimes referred to as “jellyrolls” and the pouch-style batteries as “chocolate bars”).

So Kochhar and Johnson established Li-Cycle, which is dedicated to recycling lithium-ion batteries in a safe manner.

(image: GM)

Kochhar says that they are able to recover approximately 95% of the important materials—like lithium, nickel and cobalt—from the batteries, which can then go back into the production of new batteries.

This past May Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solution, announced that it had selected Li-Cycle to recycle up to 100 percent of the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing from its battery-manufacturing facility in Ohio. This will include things like offcuts and scrap, which, Kochhar says, may be comparatively small, but given that the plant in Lordstown will have a capacity of >30 gWh, it is a non-trivial amount.

While Kochhar acknowledges that even within the next 10 years the amount of recycled critical materials from batteries will be limited—perhaps no more than 20%–there is an important need to do this.

Kochhar talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Joann Muller of Axios What’s Next, and me.

And you can see it here.

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