As the RECOVAS consortium celebrates the first year of achievement for its ground-breaking electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling project, a new report by The Faraday Institution predicts this vital market will be worth $11 billion globally by 2030.
Part-funded by the Government’s Advanced Propulsion Centre, RECOVAS is a partnership between world-leading recycler EMR, vehicle manufacturers BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley Motors, as well as Autocraft Drivetrain Systems, Connected Energy, the HSE, the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) and the University of Warwick. The project is at the forefront of efforts to create a circular supply chain for end-of-life EV batteries via reuse, remanufacture or recycling.
For EMR’s Innovation Project Manager Alexander Thompson, who has coordinated the RECOVAS project from the start, it is a partnership that is already paying off.
“As RECOVAS’s recycling partner, 2021 saw us processing batteries for the first time. We have also begun to invest in building a battery disassembly and recycling line at our Birmingham site,” he adds.
The Faraday Institution’s report, titled The UK: A Low Carbon Location to Manufacture, Drive and Recycle Electric Vehicles, doesn’t shy away from the technical and economic challenges that the partners in RECOVAS and others will face in the years ahead. It does, however, quantify the opportunity if the right investment is made:
“As manufacturing processes become more efficient and take advantage of economies of scale, recycling will become more cost-effective and reduce emissions,” the report notes.
Whilst creating new, sustainable revenue for EMR and its partners in RECOVAS, the circular supply chain for battery materials that they are creating will also help drive down the full lifecycle cost of EVs for consumers and help vehicle makers to comply with new rules of origin for the materials that they use in new cars.
The RECOVAS project shows that the UK is already emerging as a leader in the EV battery recycling sector. To fully exploit the opportunity, however, recyclers such as EMR will need to see further investment right across the EV supply chain.
“With the UK decarbonising its energy infrastructure faster than much of the rest of the EU, there is an opportunity for us to become a real leader in this area,” says Helen Waters, Commercial Manager for Electric Vehicle Recycling at EMR.
Yet, as the Faraday Institution’s report highlights, a successful UK battery recycling industry is not inevitable:
“The report highlights the requirement for more gigafactories to be built in this country alongside the creation of a cleaner, decarbonised grid,” Waters says, adding: “EMR has a key role here because, for that to happen, these gigafactories will need a recycling partner to reprocess their material.
The success of RECOVAS shows that EMR is ready to be that partner.”
Waters and her team at EMR know that working with UK-based OEMs is just one part of the story.
Recent data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that 81 percent of vehicles produced in the UK are exported to other markets, with a similar amount of the vehicles sold in the UK having been built abroad. To create a truly circular supply chain for EV batteries, it will therefore take an enhanced level of communication and cooperation across borders.
“We’re now also starting to have conversations with other partners both nationally and internationally,” confirms Waters. “As EMR will be recycling vehicles in the UK that are not necessarily made in the UK, this has to become an international conversation.”
And with stakeholders urging the UK government to enact the EU battery directive, there is hope in the industry that a roadmap to decarbonisation will soon be set, with clear 2030 targets for the industry to reach.
Encouragingly, the closing pages of The Faraday Institution’s report confirmed that its ReLiB40 research programme is developing the “technological, economic and legal infrastructure” to allow close to 100 percent of the materials in lithium-ion batteries to be reused or recycled at the end of their first life. This will be vital if recyclers are to operate on a level playing field across different markets in the years ahead.
“Capitalising on this important opportunity for the UK will require us to continue this positive approach of sharing insights, building partnerships and working together globally,” Waters says.