Insights into day-to-day recycling
But are batteries currently made to be recycled? Stena Recycling's facilities handle thousands of tonnes of batteries from electronic products every year. 10-11% of these are lithium-ion batteries and the volume is increasing all the time.
For example, it’s not uncommon for lithium-ion batteries to be unmarked. If the battery is not easy to remove, or if the material content and design information are not indicated, it’s often impossible to sort the battery correctly. In such cases, these batteries can’t be reused, recycled, refurbished or used for remanufacturing. They are often sent for incineration instead of recycling, which results in the loss of valuable and critical raw materials. This has a negative impact on both the competitiveness of the regional market and, of course, the environment. According to the European Commission, the critical raw materials cobalt, graphite and refined lithium have an import dependency rate of 86%, 98% and 100% respectively in the EU.
GOOD PROPERTIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS RECYCLABILITY
In one model of car battery examined at Stena Recycling, the manufacturer had screwed, welded and glued the materials together. The battery modules had also been covered with a large amount of super glue. In practice, it’s not viable to separate hard-fused materials, as this makes recycling the contents into circular raw materials for the manufacture of new products much more complicated.
“A battery like this takes too long to extract, increases the risk of fire and creates challenging working conditions, as it has to be processed manually. These types of design flaws can, therefore, hinder recycling efficiency. We are seeking to share this knowledge with more manufacturing companies in the future. In this way, they will get more support in developing new batteries that are resource-smart, both when the product is used and when it is recycled,” says Pär Håkansson.
DESIGNING FOR CIRCULARITY - GETTING IT RIGHT FROM THE START
This example illustrates the kind of obstacles we must overcome in order to circulate the materials we need for the sustainable production of new batteries. Ultimately, overcoming these obstacles is vital to continuing the electrification process. This starts by considering how a battery is designed and being prepared to challenge many of the conventions that exist around current design.