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The problem with battery recycling

1 year ago

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Andrew English | Journalist


13 April 2023

‘You can’t mine your way out of everything,’ said Carlos Tavares, boss of Stellantis, a couple of years ago. He was referring to the industry practice of relying on mining and refining to build a new generation of battery cars. To paraphrase Tower of Power’s 1970s hit There’s Only So Much Oil In The Ground, there’s only so much rare-earth metal – lithium and nickel, manganese and cobalt – in the ground and prices are rising.

Now you might have your own views about European and UK legislators hell bent on battery electric power as a convenient way to get them out of the climate change targets they signed up to decades ago, but there are other issues out there. Boris Johnson might have banged on about offshore wind power being a route to a future of low-carbon energy security, but with China owning or controlling much of the raw materials for battery cells and motors, and more importantly the refining and purifying capacity and manufacturing facilities to create cells and motors, there’s only so much security to be found in filling our seas with churning and burning wind turbines. Without batteries, or widespread hydrogen creation, you can have all the electricity you like, but you still won’t be able to store it.

And that’s where battery recycling comes into play. It’s the most obvious way of ensuring a low-carbon secure supply of the materials we need, it fits with clean capitalism’s current mantra of ‘circular manufacturing’, and allows the enforced growing manufacture of battery-electric cars to be balanced by those cars being scrapped and recycled at the end of their lives and then re-entering the supply chain. And it sounds good on a legislator’s or environmental group’s annual report…

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