Lithium-ion Battery Recycling: Benefits and Risks Analyzed

Lithium-ion batteries (LIB) use lithium as an electrolyte and primary cathode element, thus, the name. Introduced in the 1970s, lithium-ion batteries were primarily used in consumer electronics, powering laptops, phones, tablets, and various consumer electronics. Over the years, their use has expanded to stationary storage applications, as well as electric vehicles (EVs). Long-term performance, high energy and high power density, ability to hold a charge for a long time, low self-discharge rates, and fast charging rates have made these batteries popular.

Currently, consumer electronics and EVs add to the bulk of used lithium-ion batteries and are driving manufacturers to produce new ones frequently. Industry analysts have estimated that over 10 million metric tons of LIBs will be used by 2030. Due to various reasons, only 5% or fewer of used lithium-ion batteries are recycled today, meaning most end up in landfills.

Disposal leads to electronic waste (E-waste) which is comprised of toxic substances. This waste is known to have negative environmental problems after disposal such as polluting water, negatively impacting wildlife, and more.

Many people still throw their batteries and are unaware of the benefits of recycling. This post analyzes the benefits of lithium-ion battery recycling, the dos, and don’ts, and offers the safest option to store and send batteries for recycling at the end of their service life.

Gain a Brief Understanding on the Construction of Lithium-ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are made of four components – anode, cathode, electrolyte and separator.  

  • Cathode: This is a positive electrode, which is a source of lithium ions. The voltage and capacity of the Li-ion battery is decided by this electrode. The cathode is produced by gluing a mixed-metal powder to an aluminum current collector using polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF). The electrochemically active mixed-metal powder is used for this purpose.
  • Anode: This is a negative electrode where lithium ions are stored. They enable the current flow through the external circuit. They comprise PVDF, graphite, and copper foil.
  • Electrolyte: It is made of solvents, salts, and additives, and they facilitate lithium ion flow between the cathode and anode.
  • Separator: It is a physical barrier that separates the anode and cathode.

Lithium-ion battery manufacturers use an expensive binder solvent such as N-methyl-2-pyrolidone (NMP) to process these electrodes.

What is the Importance of Lithium-ion Battery Recycling?

Lithium-ion battery recycling assures several benefits:
  1. Environmentalists and battery specialists suggest recycling will help recover expensive materials. Nickel and cobalt are two common expensive cathode metals used. Their prices have fluctuated over the years.
  2. In many LIBs, the concentrations of manganese, lithium, along with nickel, and cobalt are high, which often exceeds the concentration of highly enriched ore. Thus, if these metals get recovered from end-of-life batteries on a large scale, they can give the same benefits as natural ore.
  3. Recycling would help reduce electronic waste from ending up in landfills.
  4. Almost 50% of the cobalt used in batteries comes from countries like Congo. Challenges like illegal mining, environmental harm, armed conflicts, and human rights abuses have been rampant in these countries. Recycling lithium-ion batteries would help reduce the dependency on these materials, improve the security of the supply chain, and reduce the human and environmental impact brought by these batteries.
  5. In short, more recycling would mean less dependency on virgin material and minimal environmental harm.

Tips to Avoid Risks Associated with Lithium-ion Battery Recycling

Lithium-ion battery recycling requires specialized equipment and processes. This is why they are only handled by well-equipped and dedicated recycling teams. The sensitive nature of these batteries demands their careful handling before shipment. Failure to properly handle damaged, defective or end-of-life lithium-ion batteries can increase the risk of a thermal runaway event. There are several dos and don’ts to be taken care of while handling these batteries.

Dos

  • Remove the damaged or defective battery from the device if safe. If not safe, leave the battery in the device and recycle the entire unit.
  • Store defective batteries in an anti-static bag.
  • Store the container in a dry and cool place to avoid a fire outbreak.
  • Always ensure to get them delivered to a certified recycling team that can safely handle hazardous materials.
  • Always ensure to tape or cap off exposed connectors.

Don’ts

  • Do not put damaged or defective batteries in regular waste bins.
  • Do not puncture or crush the batteries to avoid short-circuiting or leakage.
  • Do not store damaged or defective batteries near flammable materials.
  • Do not store these batteries in large quantities nearby.

One of the effective ways of preventing accidents by battery explosion is storing them in specially designed lithium damaged, defected, or recalled (DDR) kits. Battery Solutions provides DDR Kits to ship end-of-life or damaged lithium-ion batteries. These battery recycling kits feature a UN-approved container, anti-static bags, cushioning material, and an overpack box. They come with pre-paid shipping, pre-paid recycling, and all appropriate DOT labeling. These kits are suited for holding damaged, defective, or recalled batteries from your consumer electronics. Battery Solutions puts compliance and safety at the forefront and provides full traceability throughout the recycling process for your batteries and devices.

Start recycling your batteries today!