India can be a hub of Sustainable Stored Energy Solutions by Repurposing and Recycling lithium-ion batteries
The entire human civilisation is rapidly shaping an all-electric world, and simultaneously, giving rise to a new energy economy, with electricity at its centre. Faced with the threat of increasing pollution, global warming and climate change, there is a global effort to minimize dependencies on fossil fuels and transition to clean energy solutions. Consequently, the biggest energy-intensive sectors, such as industries, manufacturing, and transport, all are moving towards clean-energy powered solutions with lower carbon footprint.
A Future Powered By Batteries
In an increasingly electrified world, establishing sustainable energy storage solutions is of paramount importance. We are accelerating towards a future that’s powered by batteries. The shift will be causing an exponential rise in demand for batteries and application solutions, with an expected USD 70 billion growth by 2030 from the base year of 2018.
The battery and application solutions will power almost everything, from the mobility sector, commercial and residential establishments to industries. In fact, in India, the transport and personal mobility sector will witness the biggest application of batteries, powering the entire range of vehicles from trucks to bikes and three-wheelers. However, the electrification of mobility also poses environmental concerns related to the mining of lithium and other less abundant elements like cobalt and nickel, the constituents of Lithium-ion batteries. Addressing these issues at the earliest can prevent the emergence of a massive global challenge.
The Pain Points
The major raw materials reserves are in a few countries only, and therefore, the refining capacity is highly concentrated. Furthermore, the supply chains are highly vulnerable to price and shortage shocks. The battery systems add up to 40 to 60% of the production cost of the entire vehicle, which makes the end-products costlier and less affordable.
The stupendous demand of LIBs is expected to drive the demand for lithium and nickel by 13 times and of cobalt and graphite by 6 and 12 times, respectively. While aggressive mining of raw materials will cause a severe ecological impact, soon there will be a huge volume of used EV batteries lined up for recycling, adding a big volume to the chemical waste load.
Optimizing Battery Utilisation with Repurposing
These challenges warrant more optimum utilisation of the batteries and robust end-of-life solutions, which can maximize value and sustainability. Promoting a two-step circular economy around battery manufacturing can enable the generation of 50% more revenue and energy value from a single battery cell over its lifetime. With repurposing, the battery cell life is extended by more than three years and protects millions of tons of functional Li-ion units from disposal.
The reuse of Li-ion cells to make Second life batteries (SLBs) brings down the carbon footprint to about 81%. An exhausted four-wheeler FLB retains about 80% life. Instead of recycling straightaway, these batteries can be repurposed to obtain SLBs that can be used to power stationary applications like utility-scale grids, homes and telecommunication tower storage which require lower current density. SLBs are highly cost-effective when compared to FLBs. While they are still priced higher than conventional Lead-Acid batteries, they can prove to be a better alternative due to the superior performance guaranteed by their Lithium-ion cells. They are more viable as they have close to a 95% efficiency rate, zero energy loss when idle and a better cycle life.
Globally, only 40% of FLBs are repurposed, whereas 50 to 75% of the used stock can be reused before recycling, and India needs to be at the forefront of tapping this opportunity, which is estimated to be USD 9 billion by 2027.
Recycling brings down the carbon impact to 44% viz-a-viz mining to make cells.
This maximizes the utility of the ingredients of a L-ion battery cell, and creates a new battery raw material supply chain while promoting cost-effective sustainable use of resources.
According to estimates, the global raw material requirement would shoot up to 2000 GWh by 2030. However, recycled materials can save raw materials worth USD 42 billion.
It is possible to execute complete cathode and anode recovery through advanced technology-driven end-of-life recycling, which essentially means there’s a total extraction of all raw materials, including nickel, cobalt, graphite and lithium. There is three times more sulphate output, which is more valuable than black mass. There’s no waste generation, with negligible emissions and the lowest heat requirement.
Therefore, it sets up a circular economy where the extracted materials go back into the industry for manufacturing new, first-use battery systems. It is expected that by 2025 there would be a recycling and reuse opportunity of USD 11 billion globally.
India can be a global hub for sustainable stored energy solutions by enhancing its capabilities of utilising the maximum potential of LIBs and other 21st century electric batteries with recycling and reuse. There is a huge battery market opportunity that can be capitalised on in the mobility sector, growing rapidly due to the demand for three-wheelers and two-wheelers, it can reach USD 3.6 billion in revenue annually.
With regards to the stationary storage sector, the global market is forecasted to be USD 170 bn by 2030. Even at the nascent stage, but with the Government aiming to deploy solar capabilities of up to 300GWh by 2022, India is looking at a battery backup requirement of over USD 6 billion, in addition to the current stationary market demand of USD 100 million.
In every emerging crisis lies a possible opportunity. Being one of the biggest mobility markets, with a competitive edge on superlative innovations and technologies and the wherewithal to lead transformation, India can tap a huge business potential which will be beneficial to both, ecology and economy. It can unlock over USD 1 billion mobility and backup power export opportunity. As the nation pursues the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat and builds a more electrified economy, we must capitalise on the recycling and reuse opportunities.