A new solution by Nordic clean energy company Fortum makes over 80% of electric vehicle (EV) batteries recyclable, returning scarce metals back into circulation and resolving the sustainability gap by reducing the need to mine cobalt, nickel and other scarce materials. The current recycling rate for lithium-ion batteries is approximately 50%.
“There are very few working, economically viable technologies for recycling the majority of materials in lithium-ion batteries. We saw a challenge that was not yet solved and developed a scalable recycling solution for all industries using batteries,” said Kalle Saarimaa, vice president of Fortum Recycling and Waste.
Fortum achieves the 80% recycling rate with a low-CO2 hydrometallurgical recycling process. The batteries are first made safe for mechanical treatment, with plastics, aluminum and copper separated and directed to their own recycling processes.
The hydrometallurgical recovery process allows cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel to be recovered from batteries and delivered to battery manufacturers for reuse in the production of new batteries. The technology was developed by Finnish growth company Crisolteq, which has a hydrometallurgical recycling facility in Harjavalta, Finland, that is already able to operate on an industrial scale.
“Circular economy in its strictest sense means recycling an element to its original function or purpose. When we discuss the recycling of lithium-ion batteries, the ultimate aim is for the majority of the battery’s components to be recycled to new batteries,” Saarimaa shared.
Fortum is also piloting so-called “second-life” applications for batteries, where EV batteries are used in stationary energy storage applications after they are no longer fit for their original purpose.
According to a forecast by the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles on the world’s roads will increase from 3 million to 125 million by 2030. In 2015 the global lithium-ion battery recycling market was worth about 1.7 million euros, but it is expected to boom in the coming years to more than 20 billion euros.