India's EV boom: the rising significance of battery recycling

Prasanth Aby Thomas, DIGITIMES, Bangalore 0

Rajesh Gupta, founder & director, Recyclekaro. Credit: Recyclekaro.

As the demand for EVs in India continues to rise, so does the need for batteries. At the moment, lithium-ion batteries are the primary roadblock in India's efforts to be self-sufficient in the EV sphere. Although the country has identified some lithium reserves, extracting them remains a distant goal.

Battery recycling has thus gained prominence. In a recent interview with DIGITIMES Asia, Rajesh Gupta, founder & director of RecycleKaro — an e-waste management and lithium-ion battery recycling company in India — explained that demand is expected to surge as recycling becomes a cornerstone of corporate and government mandates.

"Now, times are changing," Gupta remarked. "A decade ago, companies did it merely for the sake of compliance. Today, many have integrated sustainability into their corporate strategies. These firms not only adopt sustainable policies but also ensure partnerships with businesses that emphasize proper recycling. Moreover, the government has become more proactive."

For instance, India is soon expected to introduce a battery policy mandating a specific percentage of recycled material in batteries. While these might not entirely align with international standards, India is progressively acknowledging the significance of recycling. Numerous initiatives aim to increase the use of recycled materials in products.

The process

Ion batteries comprise elements like cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium. Globally, the hydrometallurgy process is the predominant method for treating these batteries. Some companies prefer the pyrometallurgy process, which involves melting materials in a furnace using high heat, followed by refining.

"This method doesn't always meet industrial standards," Gupta noted. "We employ the hydrometallurgy process, which integrates various mechanical procedures. In hydrometallurgy, specific acids leach the materials. Crushing the lithium-ion batteries yields a black powder, commonly termed 'black mass.'"

This 'black mass' undergoes processing, with various acids used for leaching, followed by purification via solvent extraction. Once metals are purified, they undergo crystallization, producing end products like cobalt crystals or lithium carbonate.

Quality and economic feasibility

When questioned about the quality of extractions compared to original mined ones, Gupta said that while the mined product undergoes further refinement, the recycled product might slightly differ from the virgin metal. However, they achieve a purity exceeding 99 percent.

"Economically, recycling isn't as straightforward or cost-effective as mining," Gupta elaborated. "Recycling presents numerous impurities. For example, mining cobalt primarily yields cobalt with minimal impurities. In contrast, recycling batteries introduces a blend of elements like lithium and nickel, complicating and somewhat elevating the extraction cost compared to conventional mining."

The company serves customers both domestically and internationally, addressing various segments within the battery recycling sector.

Sourcing materials

Presently, the company's recycling endeavors mainly target mobile phone and laptop batteries. A few EV batteries sourced from firms like Bajaj Auto are trickling in, but most EVs in India haven't yet concluded their life cycle.

"Currently, 60 percentof our sources are from unorganized collectors," Gupta shared. "The rest, 40 percent, come from organized entities like electronic waste recyclers. Some industry giants also sell their batteries to us. Notably, our nation only recently implemented a battery management rule. Before this, lithium-ion batteries lacked specific regulations. With this rule, vehicle manufacturers will channel waste to certified recyclers."

The industry's growth with rising EVs

India's EV market trajectory is ascending, and concurrently, the demand for adept battery recycling solutions will skyrocket. As Gupta underscored, the evident shift in corporate and governmental perspectives towards sustainability and recycling is commendable. The impending battery policy, emphasizing recycled material incorporation, attests to India's dedication to an eco-friendly future.

Moreover, the technical facets of battery recycling, like the hydrometallurgy process, undergo constant refinement for peak outcomes. While challenges, especially regarding recycling's economic viability versus mining, remain, the industry's potential is immense. With a current focus on mobile phone and laptop batteries, the scope will inevitably broaden as more EVs reach their lifespan's end.