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Battery recycling

Battery recycling: Carmakers, battery companies in new turf war

The market for 'urban mining' is growing rapidly as field mining could be an environmental disaster

By Aug 16, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

A growing number of global automakers and battery companies are entering the battery recycling market.
A growing number of global automakers and battery companies are entering the battery recycling market.

With electric vehicles increasingly going mainstream, the world’s major carmakers and battery companies face another type of turf war: battery recycling and reuse.

According to the auto industry on Aug. 16, global carmakers including Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Corp., Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen, and battery firms such as LG Energy Solution Ltd., SK Innovation Co., Samsung SDI CO., CATL and Panasonic are competing against each other and at the same time forging partnerships to enter the battery-recycling market.

Analysts say battery recycling and reuse are emerging as booming industries amid global initiatives by both governments and private sectors to prevent tens of thousands of tons of lithium-ion batteries from entering landfills, creating environmental problems.

The EV battery recycling market is forecast to grow to 87 trillion won ($74 billion) by 2040 from 400 billion won in 2020, according to market tracker SNE Research.

Given that the US administration under the Joe Biden presidency aims to achieve 100% clean energy by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050, and heads of other countries, including South Korea and European nations, present similar goals, the battery recycling market could grow faster than expected, analysts said.

EV battery recycling and reuse process
EV battery recycling and reuse process


GROWING INTEREST IN RECYCLING

As lithium-ion battery production soars, so does interest in recycling among Korea’s three major EV battery makers.

When SK Innovation unveiled a plan to spin off its battery unit last month, the company said it will foster the battery metal recycling (BMR) business as one of its future growth engines.

SK said it will build its first BMR plant by early next year with an aim to put it into commercial operation by 2025. The company said it also plans to build a BMR plant overseas to recycle scrapped batteries.

LG Energy Solution, Korea’s top battery maker, recently said its long-term goal is to set up a value chain in the EV battery business from mining raw materials to production and disposal of batteries.

LG Energy, which formed Ultium Cells LLC, an EV battery joint venture with General Motors Co., has signed a business contract with a US battery recycling company to enter the American battery disposal market.

Samsung SDI, a unit of Korea’s top conglomerate Samsung, has partnered with PMGROW Corp., a Korean electric bus and battery product maker, to advance into the battery recycling market.

Hyundai Motor Group is also active in the ESS business,
Hyundai Motor Group is also active in the ESS business,

REUSE FOR ESS

Automakers are also jumping into the growing market.

Hyundai Glovis Co., a logistics unit of the Hyundai Motor Group said in February it is joining hands with LG Energy and KST Mobility Co., which operates EV ride-hailing platform Macaron Taxi, for battery leasing and recycling.

Meanwhile, Hyundai Motor said it has teamed up with UL, a US battery safety testing and certification company, to develop energy storage systems (ESSs) based on discarded batteries.

Hyundai’s sister firm Kia has partnered with SK Innovation for its battery metal recycling business.

Korea’s battery makers are also ramping up their ESS businesse at home and abroad.

ESS is receiving increasing attention around the world amid the growing popularity of renewable energy, the production of which is less stable than non-renewable types such as oil and gas. ESS is able to stabilize the supply of renewable energy through storage.

Used batteries
Used batteries

URBAN MINING

Analysts said mining key battery raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel from used battery packs will be a growing business, as mining the materials from the field is detrimental to the environment because the process comes with huge amounts of carbon emissions.

Tim Johnston, chairman of Li-Cycle, a Toronto-based recycle startup, recently said without “urban mining” at scale, the expected shortage of battery raw materials alongside the EV boom could be like the 1973 Arab oil embargo, when US petrol prices quadrupled within four months.

“Oil, you can actually turn back on relatively quickly. But if you look at the timeline that it takes to develop a lithium asset, or a cobalt asset, or a nickel asset, it’s a minimum of five years. So not only you have the potential to have the same sort of implications of the oil embargo, but [the effects] could be prolonged,” he told the Financial Times.

Also, the top-graded lithium found in mines today is just 2 to 2.5% lithium oxide, whereas in urban mining the concentration is four to five times that, the FT quoted Li-Cycle’s Johnston as saying.

Tesla said earlier this month its recycling technology allows the company to recover about 92% of battery materials from dead battery packs.

While Japan’s Nissan Motor is reusing old batteries from its Leaf cars, Volkswagen recently opened its first recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, and plans to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year during the pilot phase.

Write to Hyung-Kyu Kim, Byung-Uk Do and Il-Gue Kim at khk@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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