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Advanced lithium-ion battery resource recovery for safer recycling and reuse

Lithium-ion batteries have traditionally been impractical to recycle, leading to disposal as hazardous waste and the loss of valuable materials. Li-Cycle’s solution creates a circular supply chain for the previously challenging process.

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Li-Cycle has developed a ground-breaking way to create a truly circular supply chain for lithium-ion batteries in a world where increased electrification is needed to combat climate change. This solution defies the common misconceptions about the recyclability of lithium batteries by doing so in a safe, sustainable and economically viable way.

Traditionally, recycling lithium batteries involved processes focused on nickel and cobalt, leaving other materials unrecovered. Attempts to capture all critical materials and produce recycled-content batteries proved too costly and not possible at scale. The founders of Li-Cycle wanted to prove that secondary materials from spent batteries can be used to develop new batteries in an economic and sustainable way.

Problem

The world lacks a viable option for dealing with the rapidly growing volume of spent lithium-ion batteries. In North America, before Li-Cycle, processes for dealing with lithium-ion batteries were exporting the waste, sending it to landfill (often igniting fires), or burning the critical materials. This linear approach contributes to climate change, environmental degradation and social challenges.

Solution

Li-Cycle uses its patented Hub and Spoke technology to recover between 80-100 per cent of materials within batteries. By the end of 2020, they had capacity to process 7,500 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries per year.

The recovery output becomes input materials for battery supply chains. Where materials are not of sufficient quality for batteries, other paths for returning them to the economy are found such as steel, plastic lumber and drywall.

Li-Cycle’s participation in the broader circular economy conversation helps shift mindsets toward the possibilities of recovering materials that were deemed impossible to recover, and changing the paradigm by showing that electric vehicle (EV) batteries don’t have to be harmful for the environment if recycled properly.

Environmental impact

Producing one tonne of Li-Cycle’s battery material emits 74 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than producing one tonne of battery material from virgin sources. Li-Cycle’s process also produces zero waste, as all materials that are not end products are recycled properly. Therefore, Li-Cycle’s product will have a significant contribution to reducing the negative impacts of EVs.

Social impact

Li-Cycle’s solution indirectly reduces the number of people forced into inhumane labour practices that come with mining cobalt by replacing the need for virgin resources. Li-Cycle’s process also creates safer waste streams for individuals working in waste management as it reduces the risk of fires by removing lithium-ion batteries from the traditional waste streams. From an employment perspective, Li-Cycle is creating more jobs as it grows quickly.

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