A number of factors must be reached before a convincing closed-loop system for recycling lithium-ion batteries is ready to be rolled out.
A sufficient recycling process, a stable price, and a constant flow of recyclable batteries must be established, experts have said.
The recycling conundrum was highlighted at the International Battery Recycling Congress ICBR 2016, in Antwerp, Belgium.
But with only 3% of lithium in the material mix in batteries, the current economic viability of recycling lithium-ion batteries is low.
Speaking at the meeting, Alain Vassart, secretary general of the European Battery Recycling Association (EBRA), said at the present point in time conditions for a closed loop system had not yet been met.
The conditions include: a sufficient, constant flow of recyclable material; completion of tests on various recycling processes; and establishing the price of lithium at a high level for a stable period of time.
Despite positive growth forecasts for lithium-ion batteries, especially in the electric vehicle market, Vassart warned against exaggerated expectations on the part of the recycling industry.
“In the short term, we cannot expect to see large volumes of lithium generated from used lithium-ion batteries. Generally speaking, there is less than 3% lithium in the material mix present in these types of battery, even in car batteries.
“Even if the good market forecasts turn out to be correct, lithium recycling will only be able to make a marginal contribution towards supplying the battery manufacturing market with lithium,” Vassart said.
At the moment, lithium battery recycling, with some exceptions, is still in its infancy and not yet fully economical, said Adam McCarthy, director of European Government Affairs at Albemarle.
“It is, however, generally understood and accepted that the newest recycling processes will form a key part of the electric mobility revolution and further develop.”