Will electric vehicle batteries run out of scrap in Australia?

A few months ago I caught an Uber in town, and at one point in the traffic we had white Teslas in front and next to us. “We’re in a Tesla sandwich,” I told the driver.

He looked around and replied, “I don’t know about these electric cars. These batteries can be dangerous and when they run out they end up in the dump like everyone else – no one recycles them. “

It is sadly true that CSIRO found in various chemicals in Australia (excluding lead acid) that only 3.0 per cent of the batteries were captured for recycling.

The driver was right for the disposed lithium-ion battery: it’s a garbage dump where most of the battery is gone, CSIRO also found the capture figure in 2019 Lithium-ion cells were only 2.0 percent.

With the dramatic increase in the number of lithium-ion products in general use, this completely recyclable problem is becoming more important. In 2022 it will be more than 10,000 tons Lithium-ion battery waste is generated in Australia. Not just Lithium-ion cells in everything from personal audio devices and phones, to power tools, electric scooters and bikes.

We are also looking big Lithium-ion batteries for stable storage and EV. By 2036, Australian government figures indicate that we will generate 130-190,000 tonnes of lithium-ion waste annually. Ideally all that would be captured for reuse.

So, what about battery recycling, especially in the case of lithium-ion units? Can these batteries be safely recycled and if so how and when?

The following examines what is being done here in Australia to increase the number of reusable batteries and what you can do today to keep them away from landfills.

Past recycling methods

Although historically it is true that most batteries were not recycled, those that were captured were usually burned or melted and only 30-50 percent of them (mostly base metals, such as nickel and cobalt) were recovered.

How do you recycle a large lithium-ion battery in 2022?

In recent years, with the emergence of a large number of expired lithium-ion batteries, the recycling problem has been closely examined and new mechanisms have been developed to recycle more than 90 percent of the batteries.

There are several companies around the world, one of which is based in Australia, safely recycling batteries of all sizes. They are all using clever solutions that greatly reduce the risk of fire and other hazards.

Here are some step-by-step breakdowns of the relevant process.


First, if it is not already there, the battery will need to discharge any power.

Dussenfeld of Germany and Redwood Materials of the United States cleverly capture and use any remaining energy in large batteries to power the recycling process.

Alexis Georgeson, VP of Redwood Materials of Communications and Government Relations Care Expert The company’s “proprietary technology allows us to use the remaining energy in a living, last-life battery and therefore no external power input is required.”

Break down

“Once discharged safely, a large complex battery needs to be partially disconnected before it can be torn down,” said Max Lane, Envirostream’s commercial general manager.

Five-year-old Envirostream is Australia’s only fully accredited and EPA-certified recycler of lithium-ion batteries. Mr Lane, on behalf of the Melbourne-based recycler, added: “Although small batteries can be cut off directly, batteries larger than a few shoe boxes need to be safely disassembled by hand first.”

A similar manual extinction of large batteries is handled by all other leading foreign recyclers.


The key to disconnecting lithium-ion batteries is the absence of oxygen. Take in oxygenated air and your chances of catching fire are significantly reduced.

All front-end reusers today use this step, although their methods are different. Dusenfeld burns the battery in a deoxygenated chamber filled with inert nitrogen. US-based Li-Cycle and Australia’s Envirostream replace batteries in water baths.

“Most of the electrolytes are also contained in our water bath process and only a small amount is evaporated and trapped in our air filtration,” Mr Lane said.

Regardless of the slicing method, the results are similar and later, steel, copper and aluminum found in the housings of many battery modules are removed. In Australia, they are shipped to local metal recyclers such as Sims Metal. The original remaining materials are ready for the next processing step.

Further processing (black mass)

Excessive refining processing and drying of the torn battery results in the formation of a fine black alloy of dust which is termed ‘black mass’ in the industry.

It is composed of almost all the valuable components of batteries like cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese and lithium. Products like this dust after further processing and deconstruction techniques to make new lithium-ion batteries.

Envirostream currently exports its alloy dust to Korean firm SungEel Hitech. SungEel then takes the black mass and completes the recycling, separation and refining process to create new batteries.

Future lithium-ion volume

Although the amount of lithium-ion products is increasing, these batteries have been quite delayed before coming to EOL (end of life). This is especially true for large batteries such as the EV.

Dr. JB Strobel, co-founder of Tesla and CEO of Redwood Materials, said in a recent interview that today’s EV batteries should have a driving life of about 15 years.

However, even when their range falls below 80 percent of the demand when they are new, this does not mean that they need to be torn down or dumped in a pile of scrap.

A much lower demand power backup role is being used. In fact, consultant McKinsey & Company believes that stable storage powered by used EV batteries could exceed 200GWh per year by 2030.

It’s not just passive guessing: there are already a number of real-world examples going on This includes Jaguar Land Rover partnering with Pramak to create a portable zero-emission power storage facility using retired Jaguar i-Pace batteries.

Another example is Audi German power company RWE working with retired Audi E-Tron batteries to provide stationary power for its 4.5MWh pumped hydro plant in Herdecke, Germany. Engineers working on the project believe that the batteries will be able to provide reliable storage for 10 years after the end of their autonomous life.

Prior to that, Renault launched its advanced battery storage project in 2018. It now has battery power storage systems in Belgium, France and Germany, while Nissan EV batteries have been graded and used in a wide range over the years, such as other cars and electric forklifts, as well as stationary storage.

Mr. Lane of Envirostream agrees that the company will not be flooded with EV batteries for some time.

“Of course more batteries are coming through the gates, but biological growth will dictate our expansion plans – and high volume EV batteries will not come until 2030.”

Australian Battery Stewardship Program

After much planning, and partly to fix low levels of battery recycling in Australia, the federal government launched a battery stewardship program earlier this year.

The Battery Stewardship Council is designed to achieve an effective system of custodianship for batteries, from their manufacture / import to their EOL and recycling.

The scheme is meant to end a lack of responsibility in the past, where dumped batteries were allowed to leak their contents from landfill sites to waterways, and carbide collection and garbage truck fires were extinguished.

How Battery Stewardship Works and What You Can Do to Help

While still in infancy, the goal is a system that makes proper battery disposal and recycling accessible, convenient, and secure. There are official collection networks and secure battery transport solutions.

There will also be awareness programs for the public and industry on how and where to properly dispose of batteries. The Official Battery Stewardship Scheme of Australia is the website of the new scheme.

Bedside drawers and those old phone and garden tool batteries sitting in sheds are easy to dispose of. Just access the website, type your location, and the site will show you nearby places that take up batteries. You may be surprised to find recognized drop-off points at even the largest retail chains in Australia.

Just remember to tap the terminals before dropping the battery in these repositories. For large batteries or commercial volumes, businesses are better off contacting Envirostream’s preferences directly.

While the Uber driver rightly said that most batteries end up in the dump, these comments don’t seem to be true up front.

I couldn’t help but remind the driver that his own hybrid car also had a battery that needed to be operated responsibly at EOL.

“Then it will be someone else’s car; That’s not my problem, “he said.

Thanks to Envirostream for allowing them to use the images provided at the Melbourne Recycling Facility.

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