Lithium-ion batteries are expensive to manufacture and this is mainly due to the high raw material cost and complex preparation processes.The most costly metal of most Li-ion is cobalt,a hard lustrous gray material that’s also used to manufacture magnets and high-strength alloys.The first commercial li-ion battery of the early 1990s was lithium iron cobalt.The high specific energy made this battery popular for mobile phones,laptops and digital cameras.Other lithium-ion systems soon emerged,in part to substitute cobalt with the lower-cost manganese and nickel,as well as to gain better load capability,improve safety and prolong service life.
Consumers return 20–40 percent of spent household batteries for recycling.Many are faded laptop batteries,their life if known to be short,but one of the highest numbers comes from mobile phones.Since the battery is the only replaceable part of most mobile phones, service providers replace them as a way to solve an apparent phone problem.Most times,the fault lies elsewhere and examining the returned batteries reveal that 90 percent of these returned packs are good or can be restored with a simple service.
Larger batteries can also be tested and reused. Several companies, including ABB,are studying the redeployment of reclaimed batteries from electric vehicles.EV batteries have a longer life than packs used in mobile phones and laptops.EV manufacturers estimate up to 70 percent remaining capacity after 10 years of service when the car may be worn out.This presents sufficient reserve performance for less demanding application such as residential and commercial energy storage systems.An effective rapid-test method to check these larger batteries does not yet exist and would help the business case.
Then came lithium iron phosphate battery,a lithium-based battery that uses no cobalt.This system delivers excellent load capability and offers high stability,but comes at the cost of lower specific energy.Knowing that billions of Li-ion batteries are discarded every year,and given the high cost of cobalt,one wonders why so few companies recycle these batteries.The reason becomes clear when examining the complexity and low yield.The retrieved raw material barely pays for labor,which includes collection,transport,sorting into batteries chemistries,shredding,separation of metallic and non-metallic materials,neutralizing hazardous substances,smelting,and purifying the recovered metals.
Lead acid are the most widely recycled batteries and the automotive industry receives credit for making this possible early on.Recycling programs are believed to have started soon after Cadillac introduced the cranking motor in 1912.The process is simple and up to 70 percent of the battery’s weight yields reusable lead.In the USA,recycled batteries provide over 50 percent of the lead supply,and leading lead-acid battery manufacturers, including Johnson Controls and Exide Technologies, run profitable recycling operations.There are over 100 million e-bikes on Chinese roads and the mostly lead acid batteries are responsible for 20 percent of China’s 3.7 tons of lead refining.
Nickel-based batteries can also be recycled and the retrieved materials are iron and nickel,materials used in stainless steel production.Nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) yields the highest return in nickel and with enough supply,the recycling process is said to make money.The lower demand for cadmium has a reduced profitability for NiCd batteries.Furthermore the difficulty to retrieve precious metals from Li-ion makes this battery less attractive and a financial breakeven may not be possible.Although alkaline battery and carbon zinc amount to over 90 percent of batteries consumed in the United States,the precious metals content is low,so is the toxicity.
Recycling can be dirty and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has imposed strict guidelines to recycle lead acid batteries.The plants must be sealed and the smokestacks fitted with scrubbers.However,people find loopholes.Lead is gold and many batteries end up in Mexico and other developing countries with lax regulations.This puts workers and residents at risk of lead poisoning.Lead can enter the body by inhaling lead dust or ingestion by touching the mouth with lead-contaminated hands.Children are most vulnerable; excessive lead can affect growth,cause brain damage,harm kidneys,impair hearing and induce behavioral problems.