Is the battery recycling industry in Europe ready for its next big challenge?

Ahead of the 25th International Congress for Battery Recycling (ICBR) in Salzburg, Austria, from 16 – 18 September 2020, ICM talked to Dr Reiner Sojka, Managing Director of Accurec.
Reiner Sojka, Accurec

What is the biggest challenge European recyclers like Accurec are facing at the moment?
There are several; there is uncertainty surrounding the future of every battery chemistry process today and the industry does not have good visibility on the roadmap towards a sustainable, economically viable end market for each one. Major investment is needed to adapt to new market realities and any changes required at processing level demand considerable engineering and development work which only financially healthy companies can envisage. We will also be faced with a lack of capacity for certain chemistries due to expected increased collection targets with the revision of the Batteries Directive 2006/66/EC.

How do you see the future of the battery recycling market in Europe?
I am optimistic of course, despite the uncertainty. For more than two decades there has been only low volume battery production in the EU, and this will change, causing profound changes at all manufacturing levels. We are of course ready to accept this challenge.

Can we expect a circular economy in Europe of collected, recycled and re- used battery materials?
I take a pragmatic view on this. I believe that Li-ion is and will continue to be the dominant battery chemistry for some time to come. Battery production is beginning to return to the EU with companies such as SCI, LG, Northvolt and CATL. Precursor production is also resettling and increasing in Europe with Umicore, BASF etc. where there is a need for premium quality base metals, particularly cobalt and nickel sulfate. There is definitely demand for both metals and my prediction is that in 10 years’ time we will have robust competition in the whole process chain, including recycling and refining of those metals which only takes place overseas today.

Can we expect a revolution?
The waste market is quite conservative, it is a niche market with very little diversification and with a very small number of players worldwide. It is facing a sharp increase in tonnages creating a need for major investment in process improvements. We also face challenges to traditional business models, calling for innovative solutions, in logistics for example. So the time has come for industry to scale the business up to the next level.


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