Home » Recycling Lithium-ion Battery Is Tough. Why Is That So?

Recycling Lithium-ion Battery Is Tough. Why Is That So?

by Coffee Table Science
These days, many electric vehicles run on lithium-ion batteries. They outperform lead acid batteries in every aspect, including efficiency, pollution and energy production, except one. Lead acid batteries are still the most recyclable product on earth. Though lithium-ion batteries are known for their clean energy transition, millions of lead acid batteries are sold each year in the U.S.as starter batteries for heavy-loaded vehicles like trucks and boats. These batteries get recycled when they die. Moreover, the lead-acid battery industry claims a recycling rate of 99 percent at the domestic level. In 2021, the U.S.A. produced approximately one million tons of recycled lead, and its large proportion was used to manufacture new batteries.
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Lithium-ion batteries vs lead acid batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries composed of lithium-ion-based cells. The lithium ions move from the negative terminal to the positive terminal through an electrolyte during charging and discharging, whereas, lead acid batteries have a high amount of lead-acid and can be easily rechargeable.
Lead acid batteries are costly and have a shorter lifespan than lithium-ion batteries. Also, they require more maintenance compared to lithium-ion batteries. These days, many industries have started adopting lithium-ion batteries due to their fast charging feature, zero gas production and cost-effectiveness.
Why are lithium-ion batteries essential?
Lithium-ion batteries are majorly used in the two sectors; transportation and electricity. They help to manufacture high-performance electric cars, appliances like mobile chargers, drones, etc. These batteries are an alternative to lead acid batteries in terms of duration, zero emission and high working efficiency.
Why is it difficult to recycle lithium-ion batteries?
Though lithium-ion batteries come with numerous advantages, recycling them is difficult due to the reasons;
First, the chemistry of recycling lead-acid batteries is simple, whereas lithium-ion batteries have wide chemistry which leads to non-uniformity making the process difficult.
Second, the metal content of lead acid batteries is a metallic lead and lead oxide paste, which are recycled through a pyrometallurgical (a technique to purify metals) process at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. After the process, the lead becomes functional. In lithium-ion batteries, the process becomes challenging as there are various metals to recover, such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, graphite, etc.
The future of lithium-ion batteries recycling
The use of lithium-ion batteries has been increasing rapidly. Studies indicate that recycling them can reduce the overall cobalt, nickel and lithium demand to improve the transportation sector by 2050. Existing metal purifying techniques for recycling lithium-ion batteries only recover a fraction of metals. However, scaling up these batteries will improve the chances for sustainable recycling operations. Direct recycling strategies, such as suggested by the Argonne National Laboratory’s ReCell Center, U.S., can help improve materials’ recovery and decrease energy inputs and pollutants released from lithium-ion recycling. Both government and private initiatives are required to execute the process at a global level and reduce dependency on lead-acid batteries.
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