Clean Tech

Recycling lithium-ion batteries for the EV era

Preeti Mehra October 3 | Updated on October 03, 2021

Recharge ahead Finding ways to reuse Li-ion batteries   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

A strategy that will help scale up the sector significantly

There is some good news that should help accelerate the creation of an electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem in India. The shortage in battery recycling capacity, a serious challenge for EV penetration, is set to decrease with the oldest end-to-end recycling and electronic asset management company, Attero, going in for a franchise programme.

Apart from its advanced recycling operations in Roorkee, the largest in the country, Attero plans to offer lithium-ion battery recycling at another six plants through the franchisee route by the end of the year. These will be in Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. E-waste management, in general, will receive a massive leg-up with an increase in the number of trained, legitimate e-waste handlers, dismantlers and recyclers.

“Our vision is to, ultimately, provide dismantling and/or recycling capacity in every state. This will help in reducing logistics costs,” says the company’s founder and CEO, Nitin Gupta.

Gupta, who entered the recycling business as early as 2007, says that the use of lithium-ion batteries is rising in all kinds of products — from portable devices and electric vehicles to grid-scale energy storage. Hence, the amount of discarded battery may go up 10-fold in the future. Batteries are not only recyclable, the extracted materials are also valuable.

According to Attero, 500,000 tonnes of Li-ion batteries have already reached end of life and, by 2030, this will rise to 3 million tonnes, making recycling a responsibility and an opportunity. Attero, with its NASA-recognised technology innovations, hopes to address this space. “Our process is an efficient mix of mechanical and hydrometallurgical technologies that ensures low carbon dioxide emissions and extraction efficiency of around 98 per cent,” says Gupta. The metals recovered include lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, which can be reintroduced to produce new batteries.

However, the fact that only 5 per cent of these batteries are recycled in the country points to a lacuna in technical skills. Battery recycling, as with other e-waste, is done at a large scale in the informal sector by those who do not have a licence or training. This poses a serious hazard both to the environment and workers’ health. In the last few years, due to rulings by the National Green Tribunal, many of these informal units have been shut down by the state or central pollution control boards.

But that creates further unemployment. Environment experts emphasise the need to integrate these informal players into the formal industry by handholding them economically and through technical training. They suggest the building of e-waste recycling clusters where micro-entrepreneurs can share technical infrastructure and expertise.

Gupta too feels such a move will be useful. Attero has been working to formalise the informal sector. “The idea is to train informal sector workers and establish a consumer e-waste collection channel, which will divert e-waste to the formal sector for responsible recycling,” he opines. In this way Attero would like to help the country transition the economy from linear to circular.

Published on October 03, 2021

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