• Kelleher, M., Oyediran, Y., Pollock, A. (2022). Circularity and Recycling of Lithium-Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles — Standardization and Safety Requirements. Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON.

Executive Summary

The use of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) has been growing exponentially due to the rapid development and deployment of electric vehicles (EVs).

In a circular economy, once a product can no longer be used for its intended purpose, it goes back into the supply chain instead of to a landfill. Circularity of EV LIBs refers to directing LIBs that are no longer suitable to power an EV (i.e., when they retain less than 80% of their charge) to a second life in energy storage or other applications before they are ultimately recycled to recover valuable materials (nickel, cobalt, lithium, graphite, and manganese) to make new LIBs.

By 2030, recycled materials recovered from end-of-life (EOL) EV LIBs are projected to meet 13% of the global battery demand for cobalt, 5% for nickel, and 9% for lithium. While recycling of LIBs will not solve the supply issue, it will help.

This research project assessed the potential role of standards and safety requirements in supporting the circularity (recycling and reuse/repurposing) of EV LIBs. Information was collected through a literature review, interviews with 30 representatives from the LIB supply chain, and a gap analysis.

Currently, there are only a few EV LIB circularity businesses in operation. Most are at the early stage of the business cycle, all are still developing and innovating, and new companies continue to enter the EOL EV LIB circularity business to meet the growing demand for recycling and reuse or repurposing services. This is a complex and evolving market with many variables to consider.

Most EV LIBs will not reach EOL for many years, so the supply of EOL LIBs to circularity businesses will be modest until then. Estimates of EV LIB lifespans vary from 10 to 20 years for their first life as an EV LIB, and another, assumed 5 to 10 years for their second life in energy storage or another application before they are sent for recycling.

This research identified several aspects of the EV LIB’s second life where guidelines, codes of practice, and standards could contribute to the developing reuse, repurposing, and recycling business models, including: definitions to clarify ownership and liability when an EV LIB (or its cells or packs) enter a second life; state of health (SOH) information; traceability and the history of an EV LIB; and identification of EV LIB design and chemistry.

The key gaps identified by this research include:

  • Safe EV LIB handling knowledge gaps: There is a need for a concierge service that curates all currently available safety information related to EV LIBs (particularly discharging EV LIBs and managing EV LIB fires) that is easily accessible to relevant stakeholders;
  • Second-life EV LIB gaps: There is a need for transparency, traceability, and information about second-life LIB provenance, and a need for documents to educate financial and insurance companies about the second-life EV LIB business to facilitate investment;
  • EV LIB recycling-related gaps: There is a need for labelling of EV LIB chemistry and design to facilitate recycling;
  • EOL EV LIB transportation and storage gaps: There is a need for a simplified, harmonized set of transportation rules for EOL EV LIBs in North America; and
  • Data and information gaps: There is a need for estimates for EOL EV LIBs entering the Canadian marketplace from now to 2050 that consider longer than initially estimated EV LIB lifespans and second-life uses.

The key recommendations emerging from this research include:

  • Periodically revisiting the EOL EV LIB landscape because the market is evolving rapidly;
  • Developing an EV LIB circularity standards roadmap;
  • Researching a design for environment/design for recycling guideline for EV LIBs;
  • Updating and developing specific second-life EV LIB documents;
  • Creating a guideline to calculate the environmental footprint of EV LIB recycling and reuse/repurposing; and
  • Developing publicly available EOL EV LIB projections to 2050 for Canada.