In the News

July 13, 2021

Recycling batteries a critical part of Canada’s need for a “secure supply of raw materials” say experts

Li-Cycle worker wearing helmet, safety glasses, mask and gloves.

In the final episode of our discussion series on Canada’s national EV battery supply chain, representatives from Canadian battery recyclers spoke about challenges for EV battery end-of-life processes, regulation and why recycling makes more sense than re-use

July 12, 2021

Original article published in Electric Autonomy Canada

Electric Autonomy Canada hosted the final episode of a six-part series on Canada’s national EV battery supply chain this week, a series which had more than 2,500 registrants over the six-part arc. 

The focus was on battery second life and recycling, with panelists explaining what can and should happen to batteries once they no longer function in vehicles. They also addressed what else needs to be done in the final stage of a potential national EV battery supply chain. The discussion was moderated by Sarah Petrevan, Policy Director, Clean Energy Canada.

You can watch the full discussion by clicking on this link or the video player at the top of this article.

Continued challenges to recycling

Jean-Christophe Lambert, business development manager at Quebec-based Lithion Recycling, said the main barriers to EV battery recycling are economic and technological, such as how today’s EV batteries were designed to reduce cost, and not recycled.

Lambert highlighted how recovery processes like hydrometallurgy have improved battery material recovery rates from roughly 50 to 90 per cent, but with some industry changes, a 100 per cent recovery rate is possible. 

“That’s the core focus that we need to make happen,” he said, also noting that any process has to address the removal of eventual material impurities to reach the battery-grade level. 

Kunal Phalpher, chief commercial officer at Ontario-based Li-Cycle, said that when manufacturers design batteries for servicing, it helps the recycling process when it is easier to take the batteries out. He added that OEM and battery manufacturers will always change materials, chemistries and design, so recyclers will need to be adaptable. 

“This is a very rapidly evolving industry and technology,” he said, “so make the recycling technology as robust and flexible as possible to accommodate that.” 

Recycling vs. reuse? 

Panelists also compared the merits of recycling or reusing batteries for second life purposes, and practical considerations for both. 

“I do see value in second life applications, but I think economically it’s challenging,” Zarko Meseldzija said. He added that the challenges come when balancing the labour costs associated with handling, testing and repacking the batteries as well as the key consideration of customers’ willingness to pay once the price of a new battery is cheaper than a reused one. 

Phalpher agreed: “the cost differential between a used and new battery by the time you re-engineer doesn’t provide the best economics. The critical material strategies that these companies have been talking about lends itself to recycling. You want to be able to secure supply of raw materials, and reuse just delays recycling.” 

Need for regulation as battery warranty expires 

According to panelists, most EV batteries on the road today are still under warranty. At this stage, it is mainly manufacturers and insurance companies that are responsible for negotiating recycling in the event of a car being in an accident or otherwise being taken off the road. 

But as time goes on and warranties expire over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime, there are major questions remaining as to where these materials will go since there is currently no law in Canada requiring EV batteries to be recycled.

Lambert said that there’s a willingness from OEMs to recycle these materials given the dangerous and hazardous nature of battery material, but that it’s still unclear what will happen when these warranties expire — or how these materials will be transported to, and stored in places like scrap yards or reuse facilities. 

“This is where regulation can be extremely important to make sure we have a good framework to protect the operators, the people handling this material.”

But the universal takeaway from the panel is that recycling is a space to watch over the next decade and that the trajectory is only upwards.

“I think the industry is growing. Compared to four years ago there has been a lot of development,” says Phalpher. “Interest and attention to this topic has drastically increased.”

Summaries and videos of all six panel discussions are available here. You can submit your feedback on the series through the Electric Autonomy Canada contact page here.