Alexander Thompson, Innovation Project Manager, at EMR discusses electric battery recycling in the UK
If the benefits of switching to electric vehicles (EVs) are to be fully realised then they must become part of a circular economy, which both limits carbon emissions and safeguards the resources used to build them.
Just a few years ago, the idea of recycling electric car batteries at scale would have seemed impossible but today EMR is starting to do just that.
Having spent years developing and perfecting the technology and processes required, our business is now receiving batteries, dismantling them and recycling their components in accordance with the highest standards. And we’re now planning a huge 30,000 tonne-a-year UK facility which will become a European hub for EV battery recycling.
But why do we need to recycle the batteries in the first place? Powering a high-performance modern EV isn’t easy and, to do it effectively, manufacturers rely on a range of critical materials including cobalt, nickel, lithium and graphite. Not only is recycling these materials essential if the widespread adoption of EVs is to take place as planned; recycled materials are generally nature positive and generate a fraction of the carbon emissions associated with virgin metals.
In recent years, EMR has been working in partnership with major car manufacturers Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover and BMW – as well as some of the brightest minds in academia and business – to develop new ways to recycle EV batteries. The RECOVAS project, part-funded by the Government’s Advanced Propulsion Centre, is helping EMR and its partners to create the building blocks for a closed-loop supply chain, allowing EV batteries to be re-used, re-manufactured, or – if this isn’t possible – efficiently and responsibly recycled.
And, here EMR can call upon decades of experience, utilising the skills and knowledge our business has accumulated recycling valuable metals such as copper. The team that created our world-leading copper recycling processes have been able to use and adapt their skills to this next big challenge for our industry.
Of course, there are other firms developing EV battery recycling capability, but as more EVs reach end-of-life and the volumes of batteries begin to increase, it will become clear that not all recycling is equal.
After an EV battery has been triaged and safely dismantled and discharged (to remove any remaining stored power), the part of the battery which is rich in critical metals is shredded to create a substance called black mass. The higher the purity and quality of this black mass, the easier it is for refiners and manufacturers to process and create the next generation of EV batteries.
With EMR’s longstanding industry partnerships and pedigree as a recycler of critical materials, we’re confident the black mass we supply will be of the highest quality available. Plus, thanks to the investments we’re making in energy reduction and renewable power, in line with EMR’s net-zero strategy, it will also be the most sustainable.
And to underline our position as a leader in the field, EMR is working with the Health and Safety Executive to set standards and procedures that this emerging industry should follow to protect both our staff and the environment. Once fully developed, we will share these learnings with the rest of the recycling sector.
With resource security, an increasingly important issue and EV manufacturers competing to reduce the embedded emissions associated with their vehicles, recycling these batteries at scale is set to be one of the engineering challenges of our time.
At EMR that work has already begun.