Batteries: China EV battery recycling faces challenges

Lithium-ion battery

Battery recycling is an emerging market but large numbers of scrap batteries are on their way as a wave of decommissioned high power electric vehicle (EV) batteries looks set to hit this year in China. An estimated 120,000t to 200,000t of accumulated waste EV batteries could be available for processing between 2018 and 2020. The majority of EV batteries are lithium-ion batteries and there are concerns over possible heavy metal pollution from lithium-ion battery cathode materials—concerns which may be solved by recycling.

Chinese institutes estimate that the value of the battery recycling market could be over RMB5.29Bn (USD 824M) in 2018, and possibly exceed RMB10Bn (USD 1.56Bn) by 2020.

It is still unclear who will be ultimately responsible for Chinese EV battery recycling. In accordance with regulations, automakers should take on the recycling responsibility, however, battery companies already specialise in end-of-life battery collection and distribution for secondary use—a framework that would lend itself to recycling.

EV battery recycling has potential technical problems that need to be overcome. Scrap batteries vary in terms of type, specification and process, which may affect the type and consistency of reclaimed raw materials.

Roskill view: Both battery recycling technology and government regulations are still improving. China is currently in the process of creating policies and incentives to control the emerging industry.

In Feb 2018, interim regulations were issued jointly by seven Chinese ministries to improve the administration of the recycling and reuse of EV batteries. In May 2018, The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology planned to create a “traceability management platform” covering the entire lifecycle of EV batteries, from production through to sales, use, scraping, and recycling/reuse. Both regulations will go into effect in August 2018.

Due to a profitability barrier, the Chinese battery market cannot yet achieve large scale recycling. Automakers and battery manufacturers are now joining forces to try and create a universal system for battery recycling, together with support from local government policy. As such, cooperation activities have been highly active. In January 2018, at least 16 car and battery companies formed partnerships with China Tower – a joint venture between three Chinese telecommunications operators that has 2M towers across the country, which plans to replace the lead acid batteries it uses for power back-up with ‘second life’ lithium-ion batteries. SAIC and CATL also formed an in-depth cooperation on recycling and reuse of waste batteries in Mar 2018.