According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, more than 95 GWh of used batteries will be extracted from hybrid and electric vehicles by 2025. Retiring ESS systems will add substantially to this lithium-ion battery waste.  This huge waste stream of potentially hazardous but also potentially valuable energy materials, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and reformulated cathode materials, means that recycling high voltage lithium-ion batteries is likely to become one of the hottest topics in the electric vehicle and stationary energy storage industries in 2017.

Next week’s NAATBatt workshop on advanced battery recycling will be the first program to deal with the recycling issue in depth.  I am excited about the high quality material we will be squeezing into this one-day program.  Four major highlights of next week’s program are worthy of note:

The first highlight will be an introduction to the economic and technical challenges of recycling lithium-ion batteries.  Attendees will hear about why recycling lithium-ion batteries is more challenging than recycling lead acid batteries, which famously have a recycle rate of between 95-98%.  Leading recyclers working with lithium-ion batteries, such as Retriev, Umicore and Brunp, will talk about their practices and challenges.  The workshop will also feature presentations by a number of companies working with new recycling technologies that may fundamentally address some of the challenges of lithium-ion battery recycling.

The second highlight will be a discussion of the stranded energy problem.  Stranded energy is an issue that makes the problem of recycling high voltage lithium-ion batteries fundamentally different than recycling lead acid batteries.  Lead acid batteries are recycled because of environmental concerns.  Those environmental concerns are less significant for lithium-ion batteries, because of their largely benign chemical composition.  But their benign chemistry is more than compensated for by their ability to electrocute anyone who improperly handles a used lithium-ion battery.  Phil Gorney of NHTSA, who has been sounding the warning on the stranded energy problem for several years, will explain why ignoring the hazards of used high voltage lithium-ion batteries is not an option.

Third, attendees will hear about the strategic importance of energy materials contained in used lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries.  There is no significant mining of energy materials such as nickel, cobalt or lithium in the United States today.  The energy materials that could be recovered through an efficient recycling process could help ensure both a strategic supply and some measure of price stability for U.S.-based battery manufacturers.  Workshop attendees will hear a presentation by Brunp, a Chinese company that is the largest recycler of lithium-ion batteries in the world today.  China clearly views lithium-ion recycling as a strategic issue.  Meanwhile the United States sits on its hands.  Are the Chinese overreacting?  Or are they seeing something we are not?  The workshop will discuss this question.

Finally, given the fact that there is no requirement that high voltage lithium-ion batteries be recycled in the United States today, the workshop will survey what the rest of the world is doing about advanced battery recycling.  Speakers will discuss existing regulatory schemes in the EU and in China and what might be learned from their experiences.  They will also examine the experience of e-waste recycling in the United States.  What lessons can be learned from recycling e-waste that might be applicable to recycling lithium-ion batteries?  More important, the workshop will examine the problems that electronics manufacturers have had with e-waste recycling mandates in the United States and try to identify ways that manufacturers and users of advanced batteries can avoid similar problems.

I hope you will join NAATBatt next week for the Advanced Battery Recycling Workshop in Ann Arbor.  If you work with lithium-ion technology, this is a program you cannot afford to miss.