Australia could lead lithium-ion battery recycling charge

Australia could lead the world in re-using and recycling lithium-ion batteries.

This would address a growing waste, which is increasing by 20 per cent each year.

A new report, Lithium Battery Recycling in Australia, addresses growing demand for lithium-ion technology, currently used in vast quantities in electronic and household devices.

Low battery recycling rates can be overcome through better understanding of the importance of recycling, improved collection processes, and by implementing ways to efficiently recycle materials.

The report said an effective recycling industry could also stabilise global lithium supplies to meet consumer demand.

A mere two per cent of Australia’s annual 3300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste is recycled.

At a growth of 20 per cent per year, this could exceed 100,000 tonnes by 2036.

By recycling the batteries, 95 per cent of the components could be turned into new batteries or used in other industries.

Lead-acid batteries are recycled more often with 98 per cent of the 150,000 tonnes sold in 2010 recycled.

The majority of Australia’s battery waste is shipped overseas, and the waste that remains is left in landfill, leading to a potential fires, environmental contamination, and risk to human health.

CSIRO researching processes for recovery of metals and materials, development of new battery materials, and support for the circular economy around battery reuse and recycling.

CSIRO battery research leader Dr Anand Bhatt said as a world leader in the adoption of solar and battery systems, the use of lithium-ion technology must be responsibly managed in support of a clean energy future.

“The value for Australia is three-fold. We can draw additional value from existing materials, minimise impact on our environment, and also catalyse a new industry in lithium-ion re-use/recycling,” said Bhatt.

“The development of processes to effectively and efficiently recycle these batteries can generate a new industry in Australia. Further, effective recycling of lithium batteries can offset the current concerns around lithium security.”

Australian Battery Recycling Initiative CEO Libby Chaplin said the report came at a critical time.

“We are racing towards a world where lithium batteries are a very big part of our energy supply, yet we have some real work to do to ensure we are able to recycle the end product once it has reached its use by date,” said Chaplin.

“The CSIRO report provides critical information at an opportune time given the discussions around how to shape a product stewardship scheme for the energy storage sector.”