London, England – Electric vehicle batteries will have to be reused or recycled to validate “green cars,” but currently there is little economic sense in recycling lithium-ion batteries, according to analysts Frost & Sullivan.
Batteries contain only a small fraction of lithium carbonate as a percentage of weight, but if the number of electric vehicles (EVs) and their associated battery packs increase in the long term, reuse and recycling will ensure that the energy source of EVs are in a closed loop and complete a full life cycle.
The report, Global Electric Vehicles Lithium-ion Battery Second Life and Recycling Market Analysis, finds that EV battery recycling will become a significant part of the value chain by 2016, when sufficient quantities of EV batteries will enter the waste stream for recycling. By 2022, the EV battery recycling market is expected to be worth more than US$2 billion by 2022, with more than 500,000 end-of-life EV battery packs becoming available for recycling through the waste stream.
“Although lithium currently costs less than other raw materials needed for manufacturing a battery, there is an inherent risk due to its availability being dependent on a small geographic area,” said industry analyst Aswin Kumar. “Almost 70 per cent of lithium deposits are in South America.”
For “second life,” lithium-ion batteries will have to compete with dedicated batteries used for such current second-life applications as stationary grid storage. Cost, power and energy storage will have to be competitive, as most of the characteristics of lithium-ion batteries’ degradation at reuse are still uncertain.
“The cost of batteries, which is the main hindrance for EV adoption, can be lowered through reuse or second-life applications,” Kumar said. “Furthermore, with the rapid increase in the adoption of portable consumer electronic goods and their associated rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, battery recycling can reduce reliance on import or production of lithium.”
Although lithium is 100 per cent recyclable, battery-grade lithium from the recycling process is more expensive than that from direct sources. Lack of price incentives and legislation restricts lithium recycling, and there are only limited incentives for utilities using energy storage, which hinders reuse activities.
“Lithium is a finite resource, like coal or oil, and the metal alone should not be the future source of power for automotives,” Kumar said. “Research and development on other sources of power is needed to overcome the dependency on lithium and to meet the future challenges on demands, foreign relations and environment.”