It’s time to get serious about recycling lithium-ion batteries

A projected surge in electric-vehicle sales means that researchers must think about conserving natural resources and addressing battery end-of-life issues.

As the popularity of electric vehicles starts to grow explosively, so does the pile of spent lithium-ion batteries that once powered those cars. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, China alone will generate some 500,000 metric tons of used Li-ion batteries and that by 2030, the worldwide number will hit 2 million metric tons per year.

If current trends for handling these spent batteries hold, most of those batteries may end up in landfills even though Li-ion batteries can be recycled. These popular power packs contain valuable metals and other materials that can be recovered, processed, and reused. But very little recycling goes on today. In Australia, for example, only 2–3% of Li-ion batteries are collected and sent offshore for recycling, according to Naomi J. Boxall, an environmental scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The recycling rates in the European Union and the US—less than 5%—aren’t much higher. (Article).