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Eyes on net-zero ambitions

Gigafactories also require government funding

New York — The UK could be in danger of falling out of the race to secure a circular local battery supply chain, according to a group of industry bodies working with Warwick University on Sept. 21.

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Efforts for a sustainable future continue to ramp up, as such the need for renewable energy and low carbon production methods are being thrust to the top of investors' agendas. Also, as the globe grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, local supply chains are a hot topic.

Another essential element for the sustainability of the EV revolution is recycling.

According to "Automotive Lithium ion Battery Recycling" research published Sept. 21 by the University of Warwick, backed by the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and Faraday Battery Challenge at Innovate UK, the country is at "significant risk" of falling behind the rest of Europe.

The report notes that there are currently over a dozen large-scale lithium ion recycling facilities across the rest of Europe, but none in the UK.

The report said that the UK is the second-largest vehicle market in Europe, with annual sales above 2.3 million units in 2019, and is also among the top EV markets in Europe, with a 6% market penetration in the first quarter of 2020.

Jacqui Murray, deputy challenge director of the Faraday Battery Challenge at Innovate UK, noted: "To achieve net zero carbon emissions, we need to be thinking about the whole system. Recycling of batteries is a challenge we see in the making, yet I am confident we can develop into a successful circular economy in the UK. Understanding, sharing and collaborating will accelerate the efforts needed to advance the right technologies and infrastructure to meet the future UK Automotive market."

Recycling a key supply

By 2040, 339,000 mt of EV batteries are expected to reach end of their life per year, the report read. Also by 2040, the UK will require 140 GWh worth of cell production capability, representing 567,000 mt

"Recycling can supply 22% of this demand (assuming a 60% recycling rate and 40% reuse or remanufacture). The break-even point for an automotive lithium ion battery recycling plant is just 2,500-3,000 mt/year if the chemistry contains nickel and cobalt," it added.

The report suggests that, done correctly, recycling could supply 3,000 mt of lithium, 20,600 mt nickel, 2,400 mt manganese and 2,600 mt cobalt every year.

One of the report's authors, David Greenwood, professor of advanced propulsion systems, said: "Electric vehicles offer huge potential for decarbonising transport and improving air quality, but as we accelerate their early market we must equally be thinking about what happens at the end of their useful life. Batteries in particular contain significant quantities of materials which are costly to extract and refine and which could be hazardous to the environment if improperly disposed of."

Greenwood added: "Investment is needed to create suitable recycling facilities in the UK within the next few years, and beyond that, research is needed to allow economic recovery of much greater proportions of the battery material. In doing so we will protect the environment, secure valuable raw materials, and reduce the cost of transport."

Gigafactories also in focus

It isn't just recycling that the industry is concerned about.

The UK government needs to "step up" and give a boost to the UK's EV gigaplant ambitions, otherwise the country faces a "bleak" EV manufacturing future, according to Cornish Lithium CEO and founder Jeremy Wrathall Sept. 17.

Fielding questions on a conference call the CEO said that, although his own project's success was not dependent on the construction of a UK gigaplant, it was an important pillar for future growth of UK PLC.

One of the hardest hit industries has been the UK automotive sector, which is also facing the possibility of a "no deal" Brexit.

Wrathall, said the UK did not want to lose anymore auto-related jobs. On the subject of local supply chains, he said that it would be a good move to have a battery-cell factory in Cornwall, to help process the developer's lithium.

"The UK faces a bleak future without gigafactories," he told said during the conference call.