Automotive Lithium ion Battery Recycling in the UK
In a future UK, internal combustion engines and systems will be replaced by electric motors, power electronics and battery packs. WMG is at the forefront of developing battery technology to enable the UK’s future electric mobility agenda.
A key part of that future is how we responsibly recycle the materials contained in the batteries and thus create a commercially valuable circular economy.
A feasibility study and report produced by WMG, supported by the Advanced Propulsion Centre Electrical Energy Storage Spoke and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, found that:
- The Electric Revolution is well underway and the UK is amongst the biggest electric vehicle markets in Europe.
- By 2035, most passenger cars will contain a lithium ion chemistry traction battery. Lithium ion batteries contain rare and valuable metals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper, many of which are not found in the UK.
- UK-based OEMs pay between £3 and £8 per kg to recycle end of life lithium ion batteries that are exported abroad for material recovery. The material must later be repurchased.
- Metals are the most recyclable components within lithium ion batteries.
- The average value in end of life automotive packs is £3.3/kg for BEVs and £2.2/kg for PHEVs.
- A huge opportunity exists for lithium ion battery recycling in the UK.
- By 2040, the UK will require 140GWh worth of cell production capability, representing 567,000 tonnes of cell production, requiring 131,000 tonnes of cathodic metals. Recycling can supply 22% of this demand (assuming a 60% recycling rate and 40% reuse or remanufacture).
- The break-even point for an automotive lithium ion battery recycling plant is 2,500 – 3,000 tonnes per year if the chemistry contains nickel and cobalt.
- The three greatest costs for recycling plants are transport (29%), purchase (29%) and hourly labour (23%).
- By 2040, 339,000 tonnes of batteries are expected to reach end of life.
The UK needs to establish commercial scale recycling for automotive lithium ion batteries. This will ensure sustainable disposal and capture valuable raw materials to sustain UK battery manufacturing. Today’s volumes of end of life batteries are insufficient to sustain a commercially viable plant, but plants are needed nonetheless to ensure sustainable disposal.
Volumes will become sustainable in around 5-8 years when tens of thousands of tonnes of material will require processing. Processing of trade waste from UK battery factories will provide early revenue streams in the meantime. The UK does not have legacy processes and could challenge for highest recycling efficiencies – enabling revision of Battery Directive towards >80% recovery by mass (from 50% today).