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Study finds recycling technologies for Li-ion batteries not keeping pace with rapid rise of EVs

Recycling technologies for end-of-life lithium ion batteries (LIBs) are not keeping pace with the rapid rise of electric vehicles, setting up a potentially huge waste management problem for the future, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Birmingham.

The review of lithium-ion battery recycling suggests that, while electric vehicles (EVs) offer a solution for cutting pollution, governments and industry need to act now to develop a robust recycling infrastructure to meet future recycling need.

The study, carried out in collaboration with researchers at the universities of Newcastle and Leicester, is published in Nature.

The recycling challenge is not straightforward: there is enormous variety in the chemistries, shapes and designs of lithium ion batteries used in EVs. Individual cells are formed into modules, which are then assembled into battery packs. To recycle these efficiently, they must be disassembled and the resulting waste streams separated. As well as lithium, these batteries contain a number of other valuable metals, such as cobalt, nickel and manganese, and there is the potential to improve the processes which are currently used to recover these for reuse.

—Dr Gavin Harper, lead author on the paper

The issue of LIB waste is already significant and is set to grow as demand for EVs increases. Based on the 1 million electric cars sold in 2017, researchers calculated that 250,000 tonnes —half a million cubic meters—of unprocessed pack waste will result when these vehicles reach the end of their lives.

Analysis by the Faraday Institution—the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research—points to the need for eight gigafactories in the UK by 2040 to service the demand for LIBs. The UK will need to develop sources of supply for the critical materials required for these batteries and recycled material could play a important role.

Electrification of just 2% of the current global car fleet would represent a line of cars that could stretch around the circumference of the Earth—some 140 million vehicles. Landfill is clearly not an option for this amount of waste. Finding ways to recycle EV batteries will not only avoid a huge burden on landfill, it will also help us secure the supply of critical materials, such as cobalt and lithium, that surely hold the key to a sustainable automotive industry.

—Professor Andrew Abbott, of the University of Leicester and co-author

The study identifies a number of key challenges that engineers and policy-makers will need to address, including:

  • Identifying second use applications for end of life batteries;

  • Developing rapid repair and recycling methods, particularly given that large-scale storage of electric batteries is potentially unsafe;

  • Improving diagnostics of batteries, battery packs and battery cells, so the state of health of batteries can be accurately assessed prior to repurposing:

  • Optimizing battery designs for recycling to enable automated battery disassembly, safer than the current manual handling techniques; and

  • Designing new stabilization processes that enable end-of-life batteries to be opened and separated, and developing techniques or processes to ensure that components are not contaminated during recycling.

These batteries contain huge amounts of power and at the moment we are still relatively unprepared about how we deal with them when they reach the end of their life.

—co-author Professor Paul Christensen, of Newcastle University

Prof. Christensen is working with a number of UK Fire and Rescue Services on developing protocols for dealing with lithium-ion battery fires.

Many of the ideas suggested for recovery of high-value materials will be trialed by the Faraday Institution’s ReLiB fast-start project funded by the Faraday Institution and by the ReCell Center, at Argonne National Laboratory, funded by the US Department of Energy.


  • Harper, G., Sommerville, R., Kendrick, E., Driscoll, L., Slater P., Stolkin, R., Walton, A., Christensen, P., Heidrich, O., Lambert, S., Abbott, A., Ryder, K., Gaines, L., & Anderson, P., (2019) “Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles,” Nature Volume 575 Issue 7781 doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1682-5



Lots of work to be done.
Lots of money to be made recycling batteries.
Much easier to mine from local "dead" batteries than from a raw state.
Health and safety might be a lot tougher in the UK than Bolivia (until Boris gets his way).


They can use them for solar storage.


Oh surprise, we aren't ready for recycling the millions of toxic batteries. How toxic is the waste when recycling? Will it impact the ground water? Li Ion is supposed to curb pollution but it seems to be as toxic as fossil fuel and cost a huge amount to own. Maybe it isn't the real answer.


"They can use them for solar storage. "
Sure, as second life. And after that?


"Oh surprise, we aren't ready for recycling......"
It's strange that the capability exists to separate all the different systems in a gas guzzler and to warrant that a single system does not influence the others. Great care is taken to avoid contamination of the cooling system with hydraulic fluid and vice versa. The same applies to the heating system and all the others.
It is certainly possible to proceed in the same manner when recycling toxic wastes. The only limiting factors that might prevent such procedures are unlimited greed and maximum profits and not lacking technical means.


Solar electric storage can be a long life.
By that time we might have recycling.

Thijs Carrette

American Manganese Inc. has the answer with their patented RecycLiCo process!
They recover 99,98% of the metals in a fast and clean way (HydroMettalurgical) without polluting the air or water! They even recycle the water that is used. They have a M.O.U. with a Duth company that discharges the batteries completely in a fraction of time to make sure there is no fire danger and use the electricity to make the plant function. That sounds clean AND economical to me! Do your due dilligence.

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