Circular Economy, Recycling of
Batteries and Product Life Time

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Energy Storage & Batteries

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Kreislaufwirtschaft- Zirkuläre Wirtschaft und Batterien

Circular Economy & Recycling of Batteries

Battery Supply Chain Issues to be resolved

The extensive adoption of Li-ion batteries employed in electric cars will need increased natural resources to a large extent from the automotive industry. The expected rapid surge in batteries can result in new resource shortage (e.g. Nickel, Cobalt, Lithium, Copper, and Vanadium) and battery supply chain risks. To reinforce the resilience and sustainability of battery supply chains of the automotive and battery industry and to reduce primary resource (mining metals) dependencies, better circular economy strategies are required. 


Circular Economy can solve supply chain issues

The Circular Economy promises that the extraction of primary raw metals, such as Nickel and Cobalt, primary supplies can be reduced. Nickel and Cobalt are imported components in the majority of the high-energy density batteries used in electric automotive and electric aerial transportation-systems today. Take a look at the Article from Swiss Battery about Circular Economy 

Kreislaufwirtschaft- Zirkuläre Wirtschaft und Batterien
Kreislaufwirtschaft- Zirkuläre Wirtschaft und Batterien

The four powerful strategies in circular economy in the EU

Modern Circular Economy algorithms can perform material flow analysis to understand current and future flows of the battery materials (e.g., Cobalt and Lithium) integrated in batteries across the production-consumer and value chain.

In a circular economy model, there are multiple strategies possible which can strengthen the resilience of the battery-supply chain.

These strategies are:

  • technology-driven substitution cobalt and other critical components
  • technology-driven reduction of cobalt nd other critical components
  • new business models to stimulate battery reuse/recycling
  • governmental policy-driven strategy to increase recycling (see also Batterieverordnung 2022)
More competitive and advanced Circular Economy Strategies needed for 2035

Current industry trends go toward new technologies which provide the most promising strategies to reduce the reliance on critical cobalt substantially, but this could result in burden shifting such as an increase in a future nickel demand. To avoid the latter, technological developments can be combined with an cost-efficient recycling of the Lithium-Ion Batteries.

In the future more ambitious circular economy strategies, at a)  technological-substitution (e.g. remove a component and substitute it with something new)b) technological-substitution (e.g. reduce the amount of a component), c) government and 4) business levels, are urgently needed to address future material resource challenges across the battery production and value supply chain.

The EU has launched the “Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency” Action Plan in February 2021 to bring together governments, relevant networks and organizations..

Ukraine War 2022/2023 and Russian Raw Materials for Electric Cars

Regarding the war in 2023 there will be many new questions concerning supply chains for battery materials which need to be addressed.

May 2022: European Union (EU) to become more independent on Russian Raw Materials

The European Union should get more out of batteries – before they end up in hazardous waste. The European Parliament has been pushing for this for months. It has now introduced a bill with a large majority. Actually, it should be primarily about more environmental protection and employee rights. Because especially were Russian raw materials for batteries such as mined cobalt or nickel. There is often environmental damage, and child labor is too often the order of the day.

EU 2022: High Contribution from the Russian Raw Material Nickel

But now, since Russian troops attacked Ukraine and the world has become a different place as a result, the stakes are much higher. “Since Putin’s terrible war of aggression on Ukraine, I think even the last one realizes that we need the green transformation not only for our climate, but also for our strategic sovereignty. And batteries are the crucial building block for this transformation,” says Green MEP Anna Cavazzini. Europe must also become independent in battery production, she adds.

A large proportion of nickel raw material imports come from Russia. Lately, the price of nickel on the international commodity exchanges has really exploded. Within a few hours, it doubled to around 100,000 euros per ton. For manufacturers of rechargeable batteries and electric vehicles, this is highly worrying news.

 “It is now time for the European Union to act,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius. After all, he said, battery demand will grow massively in the coming years as electromobility (E-Mobility) continues to develop. “In light of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the task of making Europe independent of imports, new legislation is also urgently needed for the battery sector,” Sinkevicius said.

Recycling rate to rise sooner than later

In the coming years, the recycling rate for batteries is to be gradually increased to up to 90 percent. Newly produced batteries must contain a minimum proportion of recycled material. Manufacturers must precisely calculate and make transparent the durability and service life of their products. These regulations will apply not only to industrial batteries or power storage units in electric cars, but also to batteries in headphones, game joysticks or in computers and laptops, phones or e-bikes. In addition, there will be a stipulated right to repair or replace batteries – which today works especially well for many cell phones.

“The recycling of valuable and environmentally critical materials in batteries will precisely be a key to a sustainable and competitive industry that should be at the forefront worldwide,” says SPD MEP Ismail Ertug. And Danish MEP Pernille Weiss from the Christian Democratic EPP Group explains that this shows respect for nature’s resources, which are not infinite – and that is right and good. A new European battery regulation could come into force as early as the beginning of next year. At least, that is the wish of a majority in the European Parliament.

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Product Lifetime

The time span between when a product is sold and when it is discarded is known as the product lifetime or product lifespan.
Product lifetime differs slightly from service life in that the latter solely considers the actual period the product is used. 

It differs from product functional lifetime, which is the amount of time a product should last without the need for outside assistance to extend its lifetime. The product technical lifetime, which refers to the maximum period during which a product has the physical capacity to function, and product economic life, which describes the point at which maintaining a product is pricier than replacing it.

Regarding product design, the circular economy, and sustainable development, product lifetime is an important topic of research. This is because products include carbon as a result of the energy required for their design, manufacture, distribution, usage, and disposal (through their life cycle). 

 Therefore, if product lifespans can be increased, less energy, which is represented by carbon, will be used, and steps toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions will be taken. In addition, a throwaway culture and short-lived products have been blamed for the overproduction of garbage.

Product lives have been a more popular topic for scholarly and policy debate in recent years. For instance, the European Commission’s action plan for the circular economy includes discussion of product lives. 

 Regular conferences and seminars on product lifetimes and the environment are held at universities by the PLATE (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) Consortium. 

The Secondhand Economy Index on the Canadian Kijiji platform looks at how consumers extend the lifetime of products by using secondhand markets, swapping, donating, and renting/leasing/lending/pooling.

Literatur und Referenzen

  1. EU launches Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (2021), European Union (EU) >> link
  2. Green Deal: Sustainable batteries for a circular and climate neutral, European Union (2021) >> link

  3. Joris Baars, Teresa Domenech, Raimund Bleischwitz, Hans Eric Melin, Oliver Heidrich, Circular economy strategies for electric vehicle batteries reduce reliance on raw materials. Nat Sustain 4, 71–79 (2021). 

  4. Jessica Dunn, Margaret Slattery, Shuhan Shen, Circularity of Lithium-Ion Battery Materials in Electric Vehicles, Environmental Science & Technology (2021)

  5. Roberto Sommerville, Pengcheng Zhu, Emma Kendrick. A qualitative assessment of lithium-ion battery recycling processes, Resources, Conservation and Recycling (2021)

  6. Circular Economy on Wikipedia >> link

  7. Vonlanthen, David, “Circular Economy and Lithium-ion Batteries”, January 2023.


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