Metal Recycling Businesses Prepare for More Electric Cars
November 26, 2017 Jan Harvey
zoe An electric car is being charged in a Paris street, France, Sept. 12,
Recycling businesses are improving processes to remove metals from old
Their hope is to take advantage of an expected shortage of materials, such
as cobalt and lithium, when sales of electric cars start rising.
The main problem that companies face now is a shortage of used batteries to
recycle. But leaders of the recycling industry are sure that the supply, and
profits, will come.
Albrecht Melber is co-managing director of the German recycling company
"The value of lithium carbonate and natural and synthetic graphite has
doubled or tripled in the last three or four years, becoming the most
valuable materials besides cobalt in the automotive battery. There are big
values that can be recycled in the future,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Automobile manufacturers currently sell less than one million
electric-powered vehicles every year. However, some experts expect electric
vehicle sales to pass 14 million a year by 2025.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is a data specialist group. It predicts the
auto industry will need an extra 30,000 tons of cobalt and 81,000 tons of
lithium a year to meet demand by 2021.
Larry Reaugh is head of American Manganese, a Canadian recycler of metals.
He notes that large lithium cobalt batteries contain high amounts of
"If this equated to mining, you would have a very high-grade feedstock," he
said. "We're mining batteries, you might say."
Mining enough cobalt is a concern for battery manufacturers.
Most of the world’s cobalt supplies come from the Democratic Republic of
Congo, where armed groups operate in areas close to mines. This year, the
price of cobalt has more than doubled.
Supplies of lithium, mainly mined in Chile, are under far less pressure at
this time. Argentina and Australia are likely to increase cobalt production
in the near future.
However, business leaders are concerned about having enough lithium for use
Most recyclers heat old batteries to high temperatures to recover metals, a
process known as pyrometallurgy. But this generally only produces cobalt,
and sometimes nickel, while lithium is more difficult and costly to collect.
New technology is helping to recover more waste metal from used batteries.
Some companies, such as Umicore and Retriev, say they have developed ways to
get lithium once more spent, or used, batteries are available for recycling.
Steady supply of spent batteries
The lack of a steady supply of spent batteries is one of the largest
barriers to commercial development, recycling companies say.
While sales of electric cars are growing fast, lithium ion car batteries
last eight to 10 years, on average. This means it will be almost 10 years
before the supply of spent batteries is big enough to make the process
American Manganese says it is planning to direct its attention on recovering
minerals from faulty batteries. This will help the company get around the
wait time for working batteries to lose power.
Even if supplies are low, companies seem hopeful about the future.
Todd Coy is the vice president of Retriev.
"At current commodity prices we need approximately 4,000 tons per year of
batteries to justify the estimated capital costs,” he said. That number is
more than three times its current processing volume.
“We are confident this volume will be coming in the future - beyond 2023 -
but the market is not there yet,” Coy added.
Umicore says it expects volumes of spent batteries to rise above 100,000
tons a year over the next 10 years, with “massive volumes” coming onto the
market around 2025.
Once that happens, the chances for the recycling industry to capitalize will
I'm John Russell.
Jan Harvey reported on this story for the Reuters news agency. John Russell
adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in the Story
recycling - adj. of or related to reclaiming materials for future use
battery - n. an instrument or device for making electric current
data - n. the information operated from a computer program
feedstock – n. unprocessed material to supply or fuel a machine or
steady - adj. not able to move; not easily excited
commercial - adj. of or related to business
faulty - adj. having a mistake, fault, or weakness
commodity - n. unprocessed products; a measure of economic wealth
volume - n. an amount of total
capitalize – v. to sell (something valuable, such as property or stock) in
order to get money; to convert (something) into capital
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