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How much could battery recycling actually aid cobalt, lithium supply shortages?

High-power lithium-ion HEV batteries. (Reference image by Argonne National Laboratory, Flickr).

A recent report by IDTechEx estimates that <8% of the global cobalt demand and <6% of the lithium demand, will be supplied by recycled Li-ion batteries by 2030.

According to the market analyst, a combined total of over 180,000 tonnes of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese could be recovered by 2030 through Li-ion recycling, a value which is forecast to grow by approximately 10x by 2042.

For the UK-based firm, recycling will not be a silver bullet and fix all the challenges faced by the Li-ion industry, but it can help the shift toward a circular economy and will play an important role in minimizing material shortages and the negative impacts of Li-ion battery production.

In the view of the experts at IDTechEx, one thing to keep in mind is that it is possible to increase the proportion of recycled cobalt given that the metal is mostly used in consumer electronics, where growth in demand is expected to be much slower than in EVs, and the reduction of cobalt intensity in electric vehicle batteries.

How much could battery recycling actually aid cobalt, lithium supply shortages?

“In theory, approximately 15% of cobalt demand could be met from recycled material by 2030,” the report reads. “In reality, as outlined in IDTechEx’s forecasts, this is unlikely to happen due to the difficulty in collecting and diverting the high cobalt batteries from consumer electronics. Ultimately, all supply chain stakeholders need to take responsibility for the ethical impacts of their products.”

In the view of the experts at IDTechEx, the inherent value in consumer electronics batteries suggests more comprehensive collection and distribution to the relevant recycling facilities needs to be considered. This is particularly important when considering the increasing possibility of material supply bottlenecks.

“IDTechEx estimates that cobalt shortages could arise from the mid-late 2020s, with bottlenecks also expected to arise for lithium, and possibly other materials as well.”

“As a result, Li-ion recycling takes on added importance. While it will not be able to meet forecast material demand in the near future, it could play a role in minimizing material shortages and bottlenecks, which would disrupt the transition to electric vehicles, the deployment of stationary energy storage, and depress the market for Li-ion batteries.”