Ana Tuñas Matilla |
Madrid (EFE).- Spain lacks plants to recycle lithium-ion batteries, which we now send to France, Belgium or Germany, and, as far as is known, there is only one planned in the country, which, according to experts, will be insufficient to manage the volumes that will be generated in the medium term, especially with the emergence of the electric vehicle.
Lithium-based chemical batteries and accumulators are used in electric mobility solutions, which account for 60% of the market and whose useful life is around 8 years in the case of cars and 5 years in the case of bicycles, scooters or motorcycles. .
The remaining 40% corresponds almost entirely to electronic equipment, such as mobile phones, tablets or computers (average life between 2 and 3 years). In addition, they are tested for stationary energy storage.
According to data from the Spanish Technology and Innovation Platform for Energy Storage, BatteryPlat, it is estimated that in 2030 56,000 tons of Li-ion batteries will move in Spain, where the Government has set the goal of having 5 million batteries that year. electric vehicles.
However, only one project to recycle these batteries in the country has been made public: Novolitio, owned by Endesa (45%) and Urbaser (55%) and located in Cubillos del Sil (León).
The plant is expected to come into operation in 2024 with an initial capacity to recover and recycle 8,000 tons of batteries per year – equivalent to 16,000/17,000 electric vehicle batteries -, although this capacity may gradually increase, up to 24,000 or 25,000 tons, in depending on the demand, its manager, Javier Sardinero, explained to EFE.
Novolitio will be in charge of collecting the batteries and transporting them to the plant in León, where those that cannot be reused will be unloaded, disassembled and subjected to a separation and crushing process.
This process will make it possible to recycle materials such as aluminium, copper and plastics, and to extract the so-called “black mass”, a composition rich in strategic metals, such as cobalt and nickel and to a lesser extent lithium and manganese, essential for the manufacture of new batteries and precursors.
No economically viable metal recovery technology
However, the recovery of these metals will not be done in Cubillos del Sil, according to Sardinero, who explained that “many tons” of black mass are needed for the process to be economically viable.
This implies that it will be necessary to gather black mass from various countries, said the Endesa expert, who pointed out that there are advanced projects in this regard in Northern Europe and that the strategy involves selling them what they generate.
It is strategic to reintroduce these metals into the value chain so as not to depend on buying the metal outside of Europe and to work with a more sustainable product, he has defended.
Consulting firm Arthur D. Little (ADL) estimates that by 2030, Europe should have the capacity to recycle 700 kilotonnes of lithium batteries, a market that will triple by 2040, as those for electric vehicles reach the end of their lives. useful life.
According to BatteryPlat calculations, if Spain concentrates 8% of that market (based on European estimates for electric vehicles), the country will have to treat 56,000 tons/year in 2030, which indicates that Novolitio will not be able to meet all the national demand.
A million dollar bill
Lacking lithium cell and battery recycling plants, we currently send them to countries such as France, Germany or Belgium, which entails a high economic cost and a significant carbon footprint.
Collecting, treating and transporting a ton of this waste to France is around 3,000-5,000 euros, depending on the state of the batteries, safety conditions and containerization, according to Recyclia.
Extrapolated these data to the tons forecast for 2030, the bill, in the absence of Novolitio, would be between 168 and 280 million euros per year.
Only the transfer of a truck from Madrid to Germany with an approximate load of 24 tons costs about 4,000 euros per trip, they calculate in Envirobat.
From BatteryPlat, they trust that the development of new processes, the obtaining of valuable elements for the market after recycling and the collection volumes will facilitate prices to moderate and this will encourage the construction of more plants in Spain.
The possibility of reusing modules and cells will be another line of development and alternatives for the affected sectors, they have added.
Electric vehicle batteries, whose demand grows 30% annually, must be replaced when their capacity drops below 70%, but they can be used in other applications, such as energy storage facilities.
“If we stay behind, we will continue to have to send the batteries to other countries for recycling, with the economic and environmental cost that this implies, and we will be missing a unique opportunity to retain critical raw materials in the country through reverse mining. », they warn from BatteryPlat.
In Spain there is Extended Producer Responsibility which obliges companies that put certain products on the market, such as a car, to take charge of the management of the waste they generate.