We require dependable ways to recycle lithium batteries

Source: This post is based on the article “We require dependable ways to recycle lithium batteries” published in Livemint on 11th May 22.

Syllabus: GS3 – Environment, Industrial policy and growth

Relevance: Reuse and recycling of lithium batteries

News: In March 2022, the Indian government announced four recipients for its Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for advanced cell chemistry batteries, which aims to establish 50 gigawatt hours (GWh) of domestic cell manufacturing capacity by 2030.

The establishment of a domestic manufacturing capacity will be essential for ensuring supply chain and energy security.

However, scarce materials that are used in lithium-ion battery chemistries, such as cobalt, nickel and graphite, pose a significant risk for India, which has extremely limited domestic reserves of these materials. The industry’s upstream supply chain is largely dominated by China, and markets have been volatile.

Hence, a robust reuse-and-recycling programme for batteries will enable India to reduce raw material risk and help the country establish sunrise industries that are climate-friendly.

What steps are being taken globally and by India wrt building recycling capacity?

Globally

Several international actors are taking steps to build necessary recycling capacity as a response to growing battery demand.

In China, a suite of policies introduced in 2018 was aimed at the growth of recycling centres in proximity to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing hubs.

In the West, the EU has begun the process of establishing policies requiring collection targets, coupled with minimum local content requirements.

In the US, the country’s department of energy has awarded grants to innovative recycling companies.

India

India has also taken steps to establish a domestic market for battery recycling.

In February 2020, the ministry of environment introduced draft rules on battery-waste management. These rules would establish an extended producer responsibility (EPR) programme.

Under an EPR framework, stakeholders in the domestic battery industry (including manufacturers, producers and importers) would be responsible for establishing a collection plan to be approved by regulators. The plan must enable the collection of 30% of end-of-life batteries by weight two years after implementation, and gradually escalate this to 70% by the seventh year.

What are the potential benefits of setting up a recycling ecosystem in India?

Under the EPR programme, materials recovered from recycled EV lithium batteries could provide 5% of India’s domestic manufacturing needs for minerals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, and graphite by 2030. The quantity of recoverable material will only increase with time as the volume of EV batteries due for retirement increases.

Utilization of recovered minerals to meet lithium battery demand within India would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding upstream emissions associated with extraction, processing and transportation.

Further, as the Indian power grid gets decarbonized, the lithium battery manufacturing process will also become less carbon intensive. Battery recycling would therefore reduce risks to the domestic battery-making industry while complementing the national emissions reduction targets announced by India at the CoP-26 summit held in Glasgow last November.

How the draft rules on battery waste mgmt can be improved?

Currently, they have only set a battery collection target, but the policy can be used to bolster the market for second-life batteries.

The draft rules should also look to include specific language on hazardous material transport and handling guidance for lithium batteries, formalize second-life performance standards and warranties, and also establish a transparent methodology for identifying issues and stages for remediation and penalties.

In the meanwhile, the plans of battery industry stakeholders must take into consideration how costs will impact EV market parity vis-a-vis conventional vehicles, and what mechanisms are used to incentivize consumer adoption.

Way forward

The implementation of a reuse-and-recycling programme would not only enhance the resource security of the country’s vehicle electrification and energy transition ambitions, but could also deliver economic development and job growth, while ensuring improved public health and environmental safety.

Source: This post is based on the article “We require dependable ways to recycle lithium batteries” published in Livemint on 11th May 22.

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