The Insider's Guide to LCA in Battery Recycling

With a developing market for battery technologies, recycling of used batteries gained interest and importance. The focus of recycling is the reuse of existing resources and consequently avoiding the exploitation of new resources. There's an urgent requirement for defined processes for battery material reusing. There is no doubt, without such processes, the potential good thing about reusing these materials may be understated.

Nowadays, new lead-acid (PbA) batteries contain 60% to 80% recycled material (Battery Committee Worldwide 2010). The recycling of NiCd, NiMH, and Li-ion batteries, is under transition. Because of the emerging chemistry for Li-ion batteries and future insecurities related to the largescale distribution of electric vehicles, the recycling industry finds it difficult to create beneficial recycling pathways. As of now, the essential motive to reuse NiCd, NiMH, and Li-ion batteries is driven by the significant metals (Co, Ni, Ti, Cd, Cu) that they contain.

Role of LCA in battery recycling

In January 2019, at the Batterie Forum Deutschland conference, special attention was given to the LCA of batteries in the domain of electro-mobility. There are many conflicting studies about the LCA of lithium-ion batteries. The complexity in the results of such studies is due to the fact that researchers consider different system boundaries and assumptions for their study. Moreover, with the inclusion of different parameters’ analysis, a wide range of results are obtained.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects that the LCA results will reduce current and future ecological impacts and uncertainties by aiding battery makers and providers in distinguishing which materials and processes are probably going to represent the bigger potential impacts or risks to the general well-being or the climate throughout its life.

An LCA recommends the following set of improvements in the battery industry:
  • Expanding battery lifetime
  • Decreasing the level of metals by mass
  • Decreasing cobalt and nickel material use
  • Consolidating recuperated materials into new batteries
  • Assessing ways to diminish primary energy use for the cathode
  • Utilizing a solvent-less process in battery production
  • Decreasing the coal dependency of the grid
  • Reducing the energy demand of assembling the anodes

In the end, it is very tricky to use LCA for drawing a general conclusion. However, LCA is an extraordinary tool to focus on particular parameters and give explicit suggestions to the most appropriate alternatives among those parameters.

What’s the EU deciding for the future of batteries?

     
 

According to the New EU battery guideline revealed for 2022 (1st update), the European Commission proposed on December 10, 2020, the list of obligatory necessities for all batteries (portable, industrial, and automotive) available on the EU market. The Commission proposes measures, e.g., forbidding mercury-containing and cadmium-containing batteries, and prohibiting the landfilling of spent batteries. In terms of performance and durability, the proposal incorporates the improvement of least prerequisites for general-purpose portable batteries (rechargeable and non-rechargeable) by January 1, 2026, and for rechargeable industrial batteries. This is to be accomplished through the following measures:

Collection and reporting prerequisites: Industrial, starter or traction batteries should be gathered no matter what. An absolute no-disposal rule applies. All collected batteries must be recycled, and valuable materials such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, and lead should be recuperated. The current collection rate of 45% should increase to 65% in 2025 and 70% in 2030.

Recycling efficiencies: Targets for recycling efficiencies of lead-acid batteries will be expanded and, given the significance of lithium to the battery value chain, new targets for lithium batteries will be presented. From 2030, cobalt 12%, lead 85%, and 4% each for lithium and nickel will be utilized as recycled material. From 2035, the values will increase for cobalt to 20%, for lithium to 10%, and for nickel to 12%.

Recovery targets: The Commission proposes compulsory quantified targets for cobalt, copper, nickel, lead, and lithium recovery processes and a clear structure for repurposing industrial and traction batteries for a second life (e.g., utilizing a used traction battery as a stationary energy storage device).

Interchangeability: To improve the removal capability of batteries, manufacturers are required to plan their equipment in such a manner that used batteries can be easily removed and adding a new interchangeability provision that equipment must continue to perform its functions after batteries are replaced.

Carbon footprint: From July 1, 2024, all rechargeable industrial batteries and traction batteries available in the EU market must have a carbon footprint statement. From January 1, 2026, these batteries must be labeled to demonstrate their CO2 intensity performance class. Furthermore, from July 1, 2027, these batteries must comply with the corresponding maximum CO2 footprint values. Batteries must be marked in a visible, legible, and non-erasable manner so that batteries and their key qualities can be identified by this data.

 
     

 

Conclusion

From different pieces of research, it appears that the reusing of lead-acid batteries is highly necessary as the environmental effect can subsequently be diminished by nearly 50%. The Li-Ion battery has lower environmental impacts than the lead-acid battery. However, the environmental impacts of Li-Ion batteries can still be diminished by more than 20% if an appropriate recycling strategy is adopted. The life cycle analysis recommends a potential reduction of 16% in environmental impacts if an appropriate recycling strategy is established.1 It is too appeared that expected materials which are utilized in little amounts can have a critical impact on the environmental effect of the battery framework.

To know how EurA and its sustainability team are contributing to the betterment of batteries, feel free to read our successfully completed project SINTBAT and ongoing interesting project ECO2LIB.

Interested to know more about the economic assessment or life cycle costing, and how EurA could lend a helping hand to you, follow our next blog.

For more information and support, feel free to get in touch with Dr. Denise Ott by dropping an email.

 

Author: Shashank Goyal


[1] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2016.10.113

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