Most of the technology we use runs on either gas or battery. The former is exhaustible, while the latter is depletable. The former creates carbon emissions; the latter results in discarded batteries. Governments and organizations pivot to clean energy sources to limit the environmental effects of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, to avoid environmental contamination due to batteries ending up in landfills, they are instead recycled.
In 2020, the projected amount of recyclable lithium-ion batteries reached 460,000 metric tons. These salvaged wastes contribute to a circular economy involving the manufacturing of electric vehicles and solar panel systems, among other technologies requiring battery storage.
In this article, we will discuss what battery recycling is all about, the different methods of battery recycling, and the impacts it has on society and the environment.
What is battery recycling?
Batteries convert chemicals to electricity or power. Thanks to electro-chemicals like lithium, you can use your phone for a certain period without having to plug it into a power outlet.
However, the battery’s lifespan shortens every time you charge your phone. That is because every battery is capable of predetermined charge cycles. After exhausting those charge cycles, it’s time for a battery to retire.
Now, where do retired batteries go? This area of concern is where battery recycling comes in, which is the process of reusing and reprocessing battery components to create new products. That limits the material waste you produce as a consumer.
While the recycling process for batteries may have slight differences depending on their chemical and metal components, they more or less go through the following procedures:
Key Technologies in Battery Recycling
Battery recycling is possible via three technologies. They are as follows.
Pyrometallurgy or smelting
This process shreds and separates components of retired batteries via thermal treatment. Here, carbon serves as a reducing agent to decompose the ore into slag, metal, and carbon dioxide.
The upside of this technology is its simplicity and reliability. The downside is how demanding it is regarding energy use and its comparatively lower material recovery rate. In the case of lithium-ion batteries, smelting allows the recovery of nickel, copper, and cobalt.
When separating raw materials using this process? also known as chemical leaching and extraction?retired batteries undergo several solvent extraction stages. This technology is capable of recovering up to 90% of each metal component within the battery ore.
The upside of hydrometallurgy is that it requires less capital and is less energy intensive compared to smelting. However, the processes involved in the method result in a lot of wastewater containing harmful components. The disposal of this waste byproduct is what complicates the economy of the technology.
This is not the most common technology used by recycling facilities considering it’s still developing. However, this method is quite promising since it relies on physical processes.
For instance, direct recycling crushes ores to separate battery components instead of melting them. Direct recycling is less demanding capital and energy than smelting and hydrometallurgy.?
However, direct recycling might not be suitable for certain battery compositions. Plus, direct recycling might find it difficult to keep up with the fast turnover of battery materials.
Benefits of Battery Recycling
The recycling of retired batteries has several positive effects, including the following:
- Reduced environmental hazard. Improperly disposed batteries pose ecological risks such as soil and water pollution. Recycling them spares a landfill’s surrounding area from harmful chemicals and metals.
- Reduced health impact. Suppose the chemicals and metals from batteries in landfills seep into a community’s water supply. In that case, the result is precarious water contamination that may put the health of many in danger.
- Reduced mining-related carbon emissions. The extraction of metals and the production of chemicals used to manufacture batteries result in significant carbon emissions because such processes require intricate technologies and methods. Those carbon emissions contribute to global warming. With battery recycling, the industry’s carbon footprint is considerably reduced.
- Job creation. Recycling facilities are a thriving industry unto themselves. They create jobs that support the labor economy. It should go without saying that battery recycling’s impact on labor income also results in higher government revenues.
Wrapping It Up
Battery recycling is an industry worthy of everyone’s support. As we already know, lithium-ion batteries should not be disposed of in landfills for safety reasons. There really is no other ethical way to deal with retired batteries than to reintroduce them back into the supply chain. This way, we are able to maximize the resources we already have and, at the same time, reinvigorate the economy with recycled products.
To support battery recycling and recycled battery manufacturing, the next time you buy a gadget or any other technology that’s reliant on lithium-ion batteries, select brands that proudly use recycled supplies. Consider such an act your small contribution to the collective fight against our planet’s irreversible destruction.