José Pérez, CEO at Recyclia
The rapid development of the electric mobility market will see demand for lithium batteries grow at year-on-year rates of more than 30% until 2030, by which time lithium batteries will account for 78% of total production. However, the rapid rate of degradation of these batteries makes it necessary to implement the most advanced recycling technology, with the capability both to prevent environmental impact and recover the raw materials they contain at the end of their service life. Many of these raw materials are critical due to their scarcity. This is the goal of the BATRAW project, in which Recyclia is participating.
The definitive commitment to electric mobility in order to achieve ambitious climate targets, together with progressive restrictions on polluting vehicles, means that electric cars will go from accounting for 1% of vehicles in Europe in 2015 to 9% in 2030.
Forecasts indicate that there will be five million electric cars in Spain by 2030, thanks to grants for the acquisition of less polluting vehicles, envisaged in the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) 2021-2030, as well as the deployment of infrastructures and recharging points. Added to this is the market for electric scooters, bicycles and motorbikes (which also incorporate lithium batteries), a rapidly growing market, particularly in urban environments.
This increase in electric mobility has an inevitable “B side”, i.e., a larger volume of end-of-life batteries requiring management. The figures from our latest report, for 2021, provide evidence of this. Last year, through the Fundación Ecopilas, we recycled 67,604 kilograms of batteries from this type of vehicle, up 24.4% on 2020. By vehicle type, electric car batteries recorded the greatest increase (103%) in 2021, with 50,652 kilograms collected for recycling. The collection of electric bicycle and scooter batteries rose by 3% to 10,744 kilograms, while 6,208 kilograms of electric motorbike batteries were collected last year.
A definitive leap forward with funding of 10 million euros
Fortunately, recent years have seen significant progress in terms of innovation and legislation on the recycling of this type of battery. The EU is currently discussing a proposal for a Regulation requiring all batteries placed on the EU market, including electric and hybrid vehicle batteries, to be sustainably managed at the end of their service life and to serve as a source of secondary raw materials. However, challenges still lie ahead, such as the heterogeneity of the chemical composition of these batteries and the availability of the necessary infrastructures to ensure maximum recovery of the raw materials they contain, raw materials that are critical for the automotive, renewable energy and low-carbon technology sectors, amongst others.
To address this challenge, we have launched the Batraw project, in collaboration with 17 partners from seven countries. The project has received funding of over 10 million euros from the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, a figure that illustrates the strategic importance of the project in terms of reducing the European Union’s dependence on imports of critical raw materials, as well as ensuring a stable supply chain to address the expected growth of the electric mobility market in the coming years. Moreover, it also represents a great opportunity for the EU to become a world leader in the dismantling and recycling of these batteries.
The four-year project envisages the development of two pilot tests with electric vehicle batteries, which, depending on results, may be extended to other types of batteries, such as domestic batteries, to recover cobalt, nickel, manganese, lithium, graphite, aluminium and copper.
The first pilot study will take place in Pamplona (Spain) and will be coordinated by BeePlanet. It will apply semi-automated processes to the handling of these batteries to separate up to 95% of their components, including cells and modules suitable for reuse.
French company Orano will carry out the second pilot study at its facilities in Bessines sur Gartempe (France). Mechanical pre-treatment and hydrometallurgical technology will be implemented to improve the separation of the materials contained in the so-called black mass (a substance composed of non-ferrous metals resulting from the shredding of batteries), and to separate between 90% and 98% of the graphite, aluminium and copper.
The first stage of the project, which kicked off on May 1, focuses on the development of eco-design guidelines to facilitate the repair and dismantling of batteries, as well as best practices for the safe handling and transport of these waste types. It also includes the creation of a prototype battery made from recovered raw materials and a digital passport to capture and transmit key information throughout the battery lifecycle, including the sourcing, processing, reuse and recycling of components.
In the final stage, the project partners will analyse the feasibility of a business plan for exploiting these new dismantling and recycling processes within the EU and will also draw up policy recommendations based on the results to enrich ongoing regulatory developments.
Ultimately, Batraw is an ambitious project in that it could represent a definitive step towards improving the efficiency of electric vehicle battery recycling processes; an environmental challenge which, given the forecasted increase in sustainable mobility, must be addressed in order to facilitate the creation of a more circular European economy.
Published in: #92 FuturENVIRO July – August 2022