Battery Recycling

Research groups at the School of Chemistry and Department of Materials at the University of Birmingham among others are working on new methods for recycling batteries.

In 2019 researchers published a review on “Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries from Electric Vehicles. The Daily Mail also published a story based on teh article.

You can read the full review here and the Daily Mail article here.

In this exercise there are extracts from each article for you to read and a quiz for you to share your thoughts and ideas from what you have read.

Daily Mail extract:

“Electric cars are hailed as one of the key technologies in the fight against climate change, but a new study claims that recycling technology is struggling to keep pace.

This is leading to thousands of tonnes of unprocessed battery pack waste building up  – and potentially leaching dangerous chemicals into the environment. 

In the report, scientists from the University of Birmingham urge governments and industry to ‘act now to develop a robust recycling plan that can meet future needs’.

Dr Gavin Harper, study author, said that without a major recycling technology development, the million electric cars sold in 2017 will produce 250,000 tonnes of unprocessed battery pack waste in their lifetime. He added that the recycling challenge is not straightforward, as there is an enormous variety in the chemistry, shape and design of lithium-ion batteries used by electric vehicles.  In order to recycle these batteries efficiently, they must be disassembled and the resulting waste streams separated into their constituent parts. As well as lithium the batteries also contain a number of other valuable metals such as cobalt, nickel and manganese that could be reused, according to Dr Harper.

Analysis by the Faraday Institution – the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research – says the demand for electric vehicle battery packs could be an opportunity for the UK. ” 

Questions to consider:

Who is the target audience for this article?

What are the main challenges of recycling Lithium-Ion batteries according to this article?


Review extract:

Challenges of pack and module disassembly
Different vehicle manufacturers have adopted different approaches
for powering their vehicles, and electric vehicles on the market possess a wide variety of different physical configurations, cell types
and cell chemistries. This presents a challenge for battery recycling.
Figure 2 details three different types of battery cell design, and their
respective packs from electric vehicles in the marketplace from model
year 2014. It can be seen that the three vehicles possess very different physical configurations, requiring different approaches for disassembly, particularly regarding automation. It can be seen in Fig. 2
that at the different scales of disassembly, the format and relative size
of the different components differ, presenting challenges for automation. The differing form factors and capacities may also restrict
applications for re-use. And finally, Fig. 2 illustrates that manufacturers employ varying cell chemistries (see Fig. 3), which will necessitate
different approaches to materials reclamation and strongly affect the
overall economics of recycling. Whereas the prismatic and pouch cells
have planar electrodes, the cylindrical cells are tightly coiled, presenting
additional challenges to separating the electrodes for direct recycling
For repurposing and second-use applications, automotive battery
packs are currently dismantled by hand for either the second use of
the modules or for recycling. The weights and high voltages of traction batteries mean that qualified employees and specialized tools are
required for such dismantling. This is a challenge for an industry in
transition with a shortage of skills. An Institute of the Motor Industry
survey found only 1,000 trained technicians in the UK capable of servicing electric vehicles30, with another 1,000 in training. Given there are
170,000 motor technicians in the UK, this represents less than 2% of the
workforce. There is concern that untrained mechanics may risk their
lives repairing electric vehicles31, and these concerns logically extend
to those handling vehicles at the end-of-life. Additionally, it has been
suggested that manual dismantling, in countries with high labour
costs, is uneconomic with respect to revenues from extracted materials or components. Vehicle design has to strike compromises between
crash safety, centre of gravity and space optimization, which must be
balanced against serviceability. These conflicting design objectives
often result in designs that are not optimized for recyclability, and that
can be time-consuming to disassemble manually.

Questions to consider..

Key Vocabulary

Comparing the two texts

Interested? Try out our home experiment about battery recycling!