We all live amongst various batteries, from phones to power tools. Lithium-ion technology is currently the fastest growing, and perhaps the most interesting battery technology. These batteries are most commonly used in electric cars, cell phones and laptops. As demand grows for this technology and its raw materials, it is important to consider how these batteries and their components can be recycled.
Anton Nytén, Technology Director in Battery Technology at the engineering company Etteplan has been working with batteries since 2001. Anton became really interested in the battery industry when the tech industry began to realise the growing need for new and improved technology in this area.
“Already about twenty years ago, I had a feeling that this is the area where I might get to be a part of a massive development leap. At Etteplan I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of businesses, needs and products. It is ever inspiring to keep seeing and learning new things and witnessing continuous improvement”, Anton gushes.
Compared to traditional battery technologies, the biggest advantage of lithium-ion batteries is their high energy density, offering increased operation time and higher power outputs in comparison to other battery technologies. Secondly, the self-discharge of lithium-ion batteries is low, allowing them to retain the majority of their charge over extended periods of time. Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries have low maintenance requirements and do not lose their charging capacity, even if they are never fully charged or discharged.
Li-ion batteries have interesting properties, but raw materials may become scarce
Due to their properties, lithium-ion batteries are ideally suited to power high-energy applications such as electric cars and power tools. In addition to these uses, there are lithium-ion batteries in electronic devices and home technology products, such as mobile phones. Since this technology has proven itself to be practical and functional, there is a lot of demand for it.
“We are in the midst of an era of electrification, where batteries play a big role. The needs of the automotive industry in particular have hugely increased the demand for lithium-ion batteries. Therefore, the demand for raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel is equally high. Going forward, we may face problems with the availability of these raw materials, which also increases the risk of price hikes. This in turn limits availability. That is why it is very important to figure out how to recycle batteries and their raw materials”, Anton stresses.
Although there is no current shortage of lithium today, recycling it is worthwhile, if only in terms of production costs. There are two options for recycling batteries and the raw materials they contain: for example, batteries used in larger applications can be reused in another product that does not require as much battery power. Another option is to directly collect the batteries, recycle the raw materials and use them to manufacture new batteries.
The recycling issue arouses many feelings and opinions in the industry. The first option, of reusing batteries, involves challenges in terms of both safety and battery performance. Therefore, Anton believes that directly collecting and recycling raw material from used batteries is a more sustainable solution. Furthermore, recycling raw materials reduces the need for mining of new materials. However, gathering materials from high-tech and varied different battery models is time-consuming, so there really is no simple answer to the recycling conundrum.
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