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Nickel, Lithium from Battery Recycling to Outweigh Supply from Mining in Future

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Nickel and lithium produced through battery recycling will outweigh those produced through mining in 2036 and 2050, respectively, some experts forecast. In addition, the waste battery market is expected to grow rapidly once end-of-life batteries of electric vehicles begin to come out in drove in 2030 as expected.

“After studying presentations from various organizations, there are many views that the amount of nickel produced through recycling will eclipse the amount produced through mining by 2036 and the amount of lithium by 2050,” said Park Jae-beom, a senior researcher at the POSCO Research Institute, at the Secondary Battery Materials, Components, Equipment, and Recycling Conference at COEX in Gangnam, Seoul, on Sept. 1. “These two years will be important turning points in production of core materials for batteries.” Nickel and lithium are key raw materials that account for more than 50 percent and 10 percent of the cost of EV batteries, respectively.

Battery industry insiders expect the waste battery market to grow in earnest after 2030. According to market research firm SNE Research, the waste battery recycling market, which was valued at about 400 billion won in 2020, will grow to about 60 trillion won in 2030, 200 trillion won in 2040, and 600 trillion won in 2050.

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Many battery makers and battery material companies are focusing on research and development (R&D), business agreements, and the establishment of joint ventures (JVs) to preempt the growing EV waste battery market.

In 2021, LG Energy Solution participated in a capital increase implemented by Li Cycle, the largest waste battery recycler in North America, along with LG Chem, and secured a 2.6 percent stake in the Li Cycle. The two companies invested 30 billion won each. Li Cycle will supply 20,000 tons of batteries to LG Energy Solution for 10 years starting from this year.

SK innovation, the parent company of SK on, signed a business agreement with Korean waste battery company SungEel Hi-Tech last year to establish a waste battery recycling joint venture. Its plan is to combine SK innovation’s lithium hydroxide recovery technology with SungEel Hi-Tech’s nickel, cobalt, and manganese recovery technology to build a plant that will go live by 2025.

Samsung SDI has been extracting minerals from waste batteries through an equity investment in SunEel Hi-Tech. Samsung SDI currently holds an 8.73 percent stake in SungEel Hi-Tech. Samsung SDI takes out minerals from scraps from Cheonan and Ulsan plants. In the future, the company plans to expand its scope to overseas production plants such as those in Hungary.

Meanwhile, experts noted that ternary batteries which combine lithium, nickel, and manganese are more favorable for recycling than lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries which have a price advantage. “LFP batteries are not economically viable for recycling,” Park said, “There will be more demand for their reuse in energy storage systems (ESS) rather than being recycled.”

 

Source: Business Korea

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