New market opens up for old lithium batteries

Lithium batteryBy paving the way for the mass rollout of electric vehicles (EVs), lithium batteries may be revolutionising the automotive industry, but even they  cannot buck the Law of Conservation of Mass. One of the Universe’s immutable dictats, this stipulates that it is impossible to either create or destroy matter and applies to the thousands of individual Li-ion cells that every EV battery pack contains as much as to anything else.
Many of these packs have a highly respective shelf life. Nissan’s,  or instance, are under warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles. But in the end, even lithium batteries lose their capacity to generate enough electricity to power an EV, and although re-use and current recycling processes can significantly extend their uses, these too need to be either  totally recycled or otherwise disposed of. Given that today’s average battery pack weighs between 380kg and 500kg and that global EV sales are set to rise from 1.7m today to 54m by 2040, it seems that this new energy source is raising some very substantial environmental issues of its own in terms of the manual testing, dismantling and chemical separation processes entailed in lithium batteries’ ultimate recycling.
There is, also, however, a growing market for recycled lithium batteries. According to MarketsandMarkets, this will grow in value from $1.5bn in 2019 to $18.1bn by 2030. Several companies are already staking a claim and earlier this week, Ganfeng Lithium unveiled plans  to build a battery recycling plant in Mexico to tap into US demand. Listed in Hong Kong and with agreements to supply lithium to Tesla and South Korea’s LG Chem, China’s largest lithium producer has grown rapidly over the past ten years through acquisitions of in Australia, Argentina and most recently a 22.5% stake in  Mexico’s Bancanora Minerals, owners of the  Sonora lithium strip mine located 170km from the US-Mexico border.
Wang Xiaoshen, Ganfeng Lithium CEO Ganfeng now plans to build a recycling plant near the mine to process batteries from both Tesla cars and the Chinese electric buses prevalent in Latin America.  “Chinese electric buses have been exported to South American countries for years and now is about time to recycle,” Ganfeng CEO Wang Xiaoshen told the Financial Times. “And Tesla has been selling in Mexico since 2012, so in the next couple of years their early units will be ready for retiring.”
Plenty more where they came from.