WEEE & Battery Recycling Conference: New batteries, new challenges

Recyclers would be happy to emulate the nearly 100 percent recycling rate achieved for lead-acid batteries for other types of batteries, but neither the legislative framework nor the market investments to do so are yet in place. Panelists and presenters at the International WEEE & Battery Recycling Virtual Conference pointed to several reasons for the lag.

In the electric vehicle (EV) sector, the diversity of the emerging technology is a challenge, said Belgium-based consultant Willy Tomboy of Detomserve. “Batteries vary by weight, by chemistry and by application,” he commented, adding the circumstance makes it “rather difficult for recyclers to know with what kind of batteries they are dealing with.”

According to Tomboy and Kalle Saarimaa, vice president of recycling and waste solutions with Finland-based Fortum, future European Union legislation is likely to include a “battery passport” system for larger EV battery packs, similar to the vehicle identification number for whole vehicles.

Adding to the mystery recyclers can confront, lithium-ion batteries are produced in a way that binds materials together and can make them difficult to disassemble. Olivier Groux of Switzerland-based Kyburz, which makes small EVs, said most EV batteries involve covering an aluminum or copper foil sheet with a paste that includes different metals (most commonly lithium and cobalt). This core is then wrapped and surrounded in such a way to keep the active materials from draining or leaking.