Development perspectives of lithium-ion recycling processes for electric vehicle batteries

Jan Engel, University of Rhode Island


Over three hundred thousand battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are currently registered in the United States (US) as of 2015, which is less than one percent of the total market share. An expected increase for electric vehicles (EV), half of all vehicles sold in the US are expected to be EVs by 2020, will inevitably lead to a high number of EV batteries reaching their end-of-life (EOL). Manufacturers must to create processes to ensure a sustainable management system in order to fulfill government recycling regulations while assuming environmental friendly processes. Recycling used EV batteries presents unique economical and ecological challenges, considering the increased volume, diversity of car batteries, and the lack of a generalizable disposal processes. Especially, the sustainable aspect of recycling processes for EV batteries currently lacks assessment, in order to establish a more environmental friendly and economical efficient process for battery recyclers. ^ Sustainability’s so-called triple bottom line is based on the three factors: humans, economy, and the environment. This study investigates the different recycling processes for EV lithium-ion batteries (LIB) and the associated environmental impacts and economical aspects. In order to generate the data required for an Input-Process- Output (I-P-O) model of the different processes, companies who recycle LIBs were identified. An environmental assessment of the recycling processes was performed using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) executed via Umberto NXT LCA. ^ The LCA explores the comparability of the disposal processes for LIBs and quantifies the process value regarding the ecological impact with regards to the global warming potential (GWP), the human toxicity potential (HTP), and the terrestrial ecotoxicity potential (TETP). In terms of environmental effects, this paper identified processes that utilize low temperatures, and are able to recover both plastics and lithium as most beneficial processes. To contrast the economical perspective of the different industrialized recycling processes a comparison matrix was created. The most commonly recovered materials are copper, nickel, and cobalt, which are also the materials with the highest value per tonne of spent LIBs. After determining the profit of the different recycling processes, by evaluating the system inputs and outputs, the processes could be rated. Overall, five recycling processes, involving mechanical-, hydro-, and pyrometallurgical treatment, from five companies were compared. Overall, this paper suggests to utilize recycling processes based on pyro- and hydrometallurgical process steps are suggested, contrasting both, environmental and economical aspects.^

Subject Area

Environmental engineering

Recommended Citation

Jan Engel, "Development perspectives of lithium-ion recycling processes for electric vehicle batteries" (2016). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10146192.