Electric cars are becoming more sustainable.
This is evidenced by a Swedish company that's announced it successfully recycled a lithium-ion battery cell containing a nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode, using only metals recovered via battery waste, according to a press release from the firm.
Called Northvolt, the company claims its "Revolt" recycling program has become the first to recycle an EV battery using 100% reused materials.
Recycling giga-site will recycle 125,000 tons of batteries annually
All of Northvolt's recycling and production measures took place at one site, within its labs in Västerås, Sweden. And it's a significant breakthrough for the global battery industry, as it tries to make the nascent EV industry truly sustainable. So far, even Tesla vehicles haven't been sustainable. In reality, lithium-ion batteries have required extensive mining for raw materials, which counteracts the sustainable incentive of the completed vehicles. In other words, electric cars have simply moved pollution up the assembly chain, from consumers driving to the manufacturing of the parts required for EVs. But the recycling process can recover up to 95% of the metals in batteries, maintaining a purity level comparable to "virgin" material, said Chief Environmental Officer Emma Nehrenheim of Northvolt, in the release. The next step is finding out whether Northvolt and other firms can scale new recycling processes in preparation for the greater volume of battery recycling to come.
Recycled cobalt, manganese, and nickel employed in the new battery cell were gathered from battery waste via a low-energy hydrometallurgical treatment which involves the use of an aqueous solution to isolate the metals and empty them of remaining impurities. The next step for Northvolt involves producing cells with 50% recycled material at industrial scales by 2030. In line with this goal, the company's Revolt Ett giga-scale recycling plant in Skellefteå, Sweden, will be expanded past its earlier design, to make space for the recycling of 125,000 tons of batteries every year.
Roughly 250,000 tons of EV batteries will reach end-of-life in 2030
This will make Revolt Ett Europe's largest battery recycling plant, in addition to the only large-scale recycling factory that can reuse lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel, in addition to other metals. These will provide the materials for the neighboring Northvolt Ett cell manufacturing gigafactory with enough supplies to build 30 GWh of battery production every year, which is half of the total yearly cell output of Nortvolt Ett. Other metals recovered by Revolt Ett will include aluminum, copper, and plastics, and all of these can be recirculated into manufacturing flows via third-party businesses. "As the electric vehicle revolution gains speed, we should be mindful that some 250,000 tons of batteries will reach their end-of-life in Europe by 2030," said Nehrenheim in the release. "In this, some see challenges and obstacles. At Northvolt, we see opportunity. Similar to how we've found novel, sustainable solutions for the handling of salt byproduct at Northvolt Ett — treating it as a valuable product and not waste — the same is true with end-of-life batteries."
"Ultimately, a commitment to circularity will not only significantly reduce the environmental impacts of the battery industry, but also contribute to our vision to set a new benchmark for sustainability in manufacturing," added Nehrenheim. This is a major step in a rapidly evolving industry. In August, Tesla said it can recycle 92% of battery cell materials, after recovering 1,300 tons of nickel in 2020. The only loose string in the pitched sustainable circle of EVS after batteries reach 100% sustainable at scale will be the energy powering electric cars itself, since much of the power you pick up at, say, a charging station, is generated at fossil fuel power plants. One step at a time.