17 May 2011 Last updated at 10:09:14 GMT

Myth in effective recycling of lithium ion batteries

Myth in effective recycling of lithium ion batteries

NEW YORK (Scrap Monster): Introduction of lithium ion battery was an important milestone towards the invention of cheap energy saving alternatives. But some big issues have come up in recycling these kind of batteries because of the cheaper elements inside it which won’t make it too much worthy as a recyclable product.

Most of the progress has come from substituting cheap raw materials like iron, manganese and titanium for the more costly cobalt and nickel that were used in first generation lithium-ion batteries. Unfortunately, when you slash the cost of the materials that go into a battery you also slash the value of the materials that can be recovered from that battery at the end of its useful life.

Using Material Data Safety Sheets from Powerizer and current LME Prices, we can calculate the value of the metals that can be recovered from recycling a ton of used batteries and summarized them in the following table.

Battery Chemistry

Metal Value

Per Ton

Lithium cobalt oxide batteries


Lead acid batteries


Lithium iron phosphate batteries


Lithium manganese batteries



Recycling lithium-ion batteries is an incredibly complex and expensive undertaking that includes: collection and reception of batteries, burning of flammable electrolytes, neutralization of hazardous internal chemistry, smelting of metallic components, refining & purification of recovered high value metals and disposal of non-recoverable waste metals like lithium and aluminum.

The process is economic when a ton of batteries contains up to 600 pounds of recoverable cobalt that's worth $40 a pound. The instant you take the cobalt out of the equation, the process becomes hopelessly uneconomic. Products that cannot be economically recycled can only end up in one place, your friendly neighborhood landfill.

Lead-acid batteries are the most widely recycled product in the world because they're 70% lead by weight, the recycling process is simple and a robust global recycling infrastructure already exists. Many leading lead-acid battery manufacturers including Johnson Controls (JCI) and Exide Technologies (XIDE) view their recycling operations as major profit centers that also insure continuity of raw materials supply.

Despite their extremely high metal value, cobalt-based lithium batteries are rarely recycled because process is so difficult and expensive.

In light of their appallingly low metal values, lithium iron phosphate batteries from A123 Systems (AONE) and Valence Technologies (VLNC), lithium manganese batteries from Ener1 (HEV) and lithium titanate batteries from Altair Nanotechnologies (ALTI) will never be reasonable candidates for recycling, IBtimes reported.

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