Electric vehicles are expected to take off dramatically in the coming years. They’ll be followed, eventually, by a wave of used batteries that — as it stands now — will be headed mostly for landfills. A number of companies and energy researchers are doing their best to change that vision of the future.
Some battery recycling startups claim they can recover roughly 95% of the lithium, cobalt, nickel and other minerals that go into batteries, dramatically cutting down the need for new mining projects and decreasing U.S. companies’ reliance on foreign supply chains. And unlike many other products, those minerals don’t degrade as they’re recycled, making a relatively closed-loop battery economy possible.
Cracking the code on battery recycling is one of the keys to shoring up the battery supply chain needed to make the United States a major player in the next-gen autos, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. And in the long term, there’s money to be made for early adopters who can pioneer models that are financially viable.
“In the near term, there’s just not enough volume of batteries to really be a huge business,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst leading e-mobility research at Guidehouse Insights. “But 10 years from now? Absolutely. There’s a lot of potential for them to be a very substantial business.”
That’s easier said than done. The two leading methods for battery recycling are largely considered inefficient or expensive. Most EV batteries in use today weren’t built to be recycled, which makes them hard to break down, and they’re expensive to ship long distances because they’re considered hazardous material.