Why Recycling Lithium-ion Batteries Is Still the Need Of the Hour

Why Recycling Lithium-ion Batteries Is Still the Need Of the Hour
Why Recycling Lithium-ion Batteries Is Still the Need Of the Hour


Transitioning to a green economy is a priority for many countries today, including India. Multiple factors have been coming together for India in its commitment to ecological sustainability, the most recent being the Geological Survey of India’s discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district, Jammu & Kashmir.

This discovery is being hailed as a game changer and a significant step towards India’s electrification goals.

This is due to the fact that a single electric vehicle (EV) contains approximately 10 kilograms of lithium and the lithium-ion battery accounts for more than 40% of the cost of any EV in India.

According to a report by The Council and Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation, Chile has about 58% of the world’s lithium reserves and China has about 43% of the world’s rare earth mineral reserves. As a result, India imports massive amounts of lithium batteries.

As the demand for and market for electric vehicles has grown, so has the reliance on lithium. According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India’s lithium imports increased approximately 6.5 times between 2010 and 2017.

According to Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, India imported 450 million units of lithium batteries worth INR 6,600 crore ($929.26 million) in 2019-20.

Today, some countries are looking for alternatives to this technology, while others are working on battery recycling.

How much will J&K reserves contribute to India’s EV transition? Will it suffice, or should we look into lithium alternatives? Should we look for more of these reserves at the same time?

Alternatives such as aluminium air and solid-state batteries have also shown promise, but they have yet to be mass-produced. Technologies based on hydrogen fuel cells, which have seen some adoption in the Japanese market, and graphene-led supercapacitors are two of the most intriguing and promising alternatives to Li-ion batteries. However, hydrogen fuel cells are said to be fraught with safety concerns, as well as processing and supply chain issues.

As a result, the news of these reserves has given the industry hope. In January 2021, 1,600 tonnes of lithium reserves were discovered in Karnataka. 

However, the Department of Atomic Energy later stated that unless a proper technology or method for profitably extracting lithium from its ore is available, the true benefit of exploration may not exist and that it is not commercially viable.

850 tonnes of li-carbonate are required to achieve a cell production capacity of 1GWh, depending on the cell chemistry. The global cell production capacity is 500GWh, with India aiming to reach 70GWh of cell capacity by 2030. 

Given that all of the 5.9 metric tonnes of lithium reserves discovered in J&K may be extractable, it is possible to support a cell production capacity of 6TWh, giving India an extrapolated push towards its 2070 net-zero goals.

“The discovery not only makes India self-sufficient in meeting its battery demands, but it will also help India reduce its reliance on neighboring countries, protecting its FOREX capacity and reducing the trade deficit because the capital invested in lithium imports will be locked in the country,” said Pankaj Sharma, co-founder, and director at Log9 Materials.

However, he believes that we must advance in materials research to support the conversion of mined lithium content into battery-grade lithium in order to ensure that the entire supply chain process occurs in India. Furthermore, mining may have a significant negative impact on the environment.

“Every % of demand met by recycling output substitutes mining which significantly benefits the environment. At the same time, recycling these raw materials can help reduce the cost of new batteries and create employment opportunities in li-ion battery recycling. In the long run, li-ion battery recycling can add a positive GDP impact to any economy and help meet the increased demand for Li-ion batteries,” said Nitin Gupta, CEO and co-founder, of Attero Recycling.

Bolivia has the most lithium reserves, with 21 million tonnes, followed by Argentina (20 million tonnes), the United States (12 million tonnes), Chile (11 million tonnes), Australia (7.9 million tonnes), China (6.8 million tonnes), and India (5.9 Mn tonnes).

“It will reduce dependence on lithium imports, substantially cut down battery manufacturing costs, and help lower the prices of EV vehicles in the future. However, we are still at an early stage of exploration and need to ascertain the commercial viability. Secondly, investments in Lithium batteries need to be prioritized. Once these tenets are in place, we are confident this discovery will make India a global destination for EV manufacturing,” said Kalyan C Korimerla, MD, and co-promoter, of Etrio Automobiles.

“The amount of lithium reserves discovered in J&K is massive (if completely extractable) and could account for the cell production capacity of 6TWh. Nevertheless, it depends on the type of lithium content found to confirm the exact extractable amount and hence the usable amount of the most crucial component of EV batteries,” added Sharma.

However, he believes that we should also investigate the possibility of battery recycling and establish an end-to-end indigenous supply chain process to reduce our reliance on foreign countries.

“Over 80 percent of the battery can be recycled as 90 percent of valuable metals can be recovered. Doing so will reduce dependence on imports to a greater extent over the long run. However, from a vantage point of view, our efforts must be directed not only toward mining lithium reserves and alternatives but also providing investment support to battery recycling and EV manufacturers in India,” said Korimerla.

While the 5.9 metric tonnes of lithium reserves give hope that more large deposits may be discovered across the country, experts believe that we must also focus on lithium alternatives to avoid reliance on imports. Creating and strengthening battery recycling infrastructure is also critical. According to experts, Li-ion battery recycling has the potential to become a sunrise sector for the Indian economy over the next several decades.

“India generates more than 50,000 tons of lithium-ion battery waste annually, growing in the range of 40-80%, depending on different models used for computing electric vehicle growth in India. Li-ion battery recycling is the need of the hour in the country as battery materials have huge ESG, supply chain, and geopolitical risks, said Gupta.


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Content Credit: Entrepreneur.India

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