Lithium batteries from mobiles and EVs to become next big waste management nightmare

Some estimates put battery recycling capacity at the moment at barely 20,000 tonnes


The electric revolution is live, and as days and months go by, we will only see more and more cars and two-wheelers, at least for the foreseeable future, running on lithium-ion cell technology that produces clean energy.

We will also see the advent of a new waste management nightmare— what exactly to do with all those battery waste.

A new report says that up to 81 gigawatt hours of waste batteries — that amounts to more than five lakh tonnes— would reach waste recycling firms all the way up to 2030.

Some estimates put the battery recycling capacity at the moment at barely 20,000 tonnes.

That’s not all. Remember that many conservative predictions believe that 2030 would be the tipping point when electric vehicles become mainstream. This means that while consumer electronics battery waste (read: primarily mobiles) is the primary source right now, we are just waiting for the floodgates to open once EVs take centre stage.

Are we even aware of what this involves, let alone being prepared with technologies for recycling and waste management?

“There is an urgent need to expand capacity to meet demand,” said Rajat Verma, founder & CEO of Lohum, one of the biggest players in the nascent lithium-ion battery recycling scene in India. “The nature of the business is such that it (will) entail significant investment in R&D, safety, and quality.”

The report itself, part of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s 'Roadmap for Future Mobility 2030’ highlights the challenges and has suggested recommendations that the government could adopt before this reaches crisis levels. Key recommendations include providing incentives for R&D programmes for advanced battery technology research as well as for battery technology vehicles, a public-private model to ensure batteries are routed to certified refurbishing and recycling facilities, assigning HSN codes to track spent batteries and black mass and, of course, consumer awareness programme and intervention at municipal levels to install safe battery disposal habits.

But moves at the government level may just not be enough. Demand for Li-ion batteries is forecast to grow approximately 33 per cent every year, and recycling could well be the best option to cater to this in-demand and rare to get mineral. Though the sector is small in the country presently, it is all set to explode in the coming years. One estimate suggests that the recycling sector by itself could see revenues exceeding 40 billion dollars by 2040.

“This approach involves the collection, recycling, reuse, or repair of used batteries to create a closed-loop domestic supply chain. Recycling holds enormous potential in the industry,” feels Anurag Choudhary, CMD & CEO of Himadri Speciality Chemical. “We remain enthusiastic about significantly contributing to the ecosystem of lithium-ion battery recycling in India,” he added.

Private players, though small in scale, are already at it — from the likes of Lohum and BatX to Attero. “It is the right time for our nation to proactively build and scale an effective ecosystem for the long run,” said Attero co-founder and CEO Nitin Gupta. Attero has been scaling up its recycling facilities armed with global patents. “A well-structured framework will allow us to harness our capabilities to their maximum potential, effectively reducing battery waste while driving environmental and economic progress,” Gupta added.

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