The manufacture of large batteries is accelerating to power electric vehicles, but what will we do with the batteries when they are dead? There’s a lot of money in battery recycling companies, but it’s equally important to know how these companies actually source the batteries in order to recycle them. Electrek spoke with Leo Raudys, CEO of Call2Recycleabout how the Atlanta-based company closes the loop between producers, consumers and recyclers and facilitates the transfer of dead electric mobility batteries into the hands of recyclers.
Electrek: What does Call2Recycle do and how could it boost EV battery recycling in the US?
Leo Raudys: Call2Recycle is a non-profit organization that operates a battery management, collection, logistics and recycling program. We handle batteries ranging from rechargeable and single-use batteries to those used to power e-bikes and electric vehicles.
Through more than 15,000 drop-off locations across the United States, including municipalities and retailers like Lowe’s, The Home Depot, and Staples, we’ve recycled more than 140 million pounds of batteries since our inception in 1994.
As climate action and other market forces accelerate reliance on larger batteries that power everything from electric vehicles to power grids, we must be prepared to safely handle this influx of batteries once they come to the end of their life. Ensuring that our battery recycling capacity matches the volume of batteries coming out of the market requires careful planning, investment and coordination.
Last October, for example, we announced a collaboration with Lithion Recycling in Quebec, Canada, to provide a turnkey, full-service management solution to safely and efficiently recycle electric vehicle batteries across America. North. Lithion’s patented hydrometallurgical battery recycling process combined with our historical knowledge and technical expertise made it an ideal collaboration.
We also work with a few automakers on select drivers to manage their recalled or under-warranty batteries and help resolve complex issues associated with end-of-life batteries. Essentially, Call2Recycle plays a crucial role in managing the logistical challenges and regulatory complexities to collect and safely transport these batteries to where they need to go to be reused or recycled efficiently. This reduces the need to mine virgin materials and enables a more sustainable battery supply chain.
Electrek: What are the challenges facing the battery recycling industry and how do you think they could be overcome?
Leo Raudys: Security is one of the main areas of focus right now. Rapid adoption brings its own set of security hurdles for anyone trying to transport and recycle these technological marvels.
Large-format Li-ion batteries must meet strict handling, storage, processing, and disposal requirements, as well as U.S. Department of Transportation regulations. It takes industry alignment – manufacturers, auto dealers, governments, etc. – to ensure that safe handling is not neglected. We have successfully engaged with various stakeholders throughout our history to identify and resolve battery recycling issues. And we do this with electric mobility to ensure that there is a system for collecting and safely transporting batteries when they are ready for reuse or recycling.
Electric vehicle batteries have a lifespan of 10 to 13 years. So while they’re not yet ready to be recycled in large quantities, we know they’re on the way. Companies around the world are already investing in recycling plants to meet this demand. From our perspective, the biggest hurdle is figuring out how to create a shared collection system among multiple OEMs and recyclers for cost and environmental savings.
How can we get these batteries from point A to point B in a safe, sustainable and cost-effective way for reuse or recycling? This is what Call2Recycle does. By advising stakeholders on the multiple regulatory and technical challenges of battery collection and recycling, we can build a sustainable infrastructure to get these batteries from point to point.
The good news is that, despite all the immediate challenges facing the industry, the rise of these large format batteries to the market is enabling the industry to become even more innovative. We are already seeing significant planning for how we will manage them at the end of their life cycle.
Electrek: What are the most efficient and sustainable recycling processes for electric vehicle batteries?
Leo Raudys: Continued investment in a circular economy and continued recycling in the United States will allow the United States to be more efficient and establish a fully sustainable battery supply chain. We are already seeing a shift in the right direction with initiatives such as President Biden’s infrastructure bill, and this month federal legislation was proposed regarding the recycling and supply of lithium-ion in the ‘Oregon. Transportation accounts for a good portion of the cost of recycling, as well as the emissions associated with shipping these batteries overseas. It is therefore essential to keep it as efficient as possible.
We are also seeing significant growth in US-based recyclers. Companies such as Redwood Materials, Li-Cycle and Ascend Elements are just a few of the recycling companies pioneering innovative domestic recycling technologies and processes. These recyclers focus on recovering valuable materials from batteries and reintegrating them into our supply chain, reducing our dependence on virgin mining materials. With new technology comes more innovation and new processors, so we can expect to see even more regional and national players emerge.
Electrek: What should be done to make the recycling of electric vehicle batteries more user-friendly?
Leo Raudys: Access, awareness and security are key. Consumers already want to recycle, but they need convenient access to EV recycling options, and they need to be informed that those options even exist.
A consumer should be able to take their vehicle to their car dealership, where the battery can be properly assessed, safely managed, and transported to auto dismantlers and recyclers if it has reached its end of life. It’s important to understand that an EV battery can follow many different paths – repair, refurbishment, repurposing or resale – but ultimately, no matter the path, it always leads to recycling.
Continuing to focus on increasing awareness on the consumer side and processing capacity on the industrial side will help us keep pace with the number of batteries approaching end of life.
This is also a big part of what we do: designing awareness campaigns with waste workers, as well as partnerships with recycling processors, to ensure that the path to recycling is as smooth and clear as possible for all stakeholders involved.
Electrek: What processes need to be in place to ensure safe battery recycling?
Leo Raudys: Education and accessibility are two of the most effective tools for ensuring safety, especially as batteries grow in physical size. Without the proper knowledge, EV batteries are more susceptible to mishandling, leading to significant safety risks. As we know, Li-ion batteries can cause dangerous fires if not handled properly, putting waste workers, residential communities and entire recycling facilities at risk. Continuing to streamline guidelines on the collection, transport and recycling of these batteries for consumers and producers will help reduce safety risks.
The most important thing is that we all stay focused on innovation. Our future is only becoming electrified and the batteries that are at the heart of this revolution are evolving rapidly. We are seeing the development of new battery chemistries and sizes, and not only must we keep pace with these changes, we must also anticipate them. That’s why we continuously collaborate with our network of manufacturers, auto recyclers, governments and civil society partners to stay at the forefront of the battery recycling revolution.
There is a lot of work to do, but the future is bright. With continued investments in education, innovation, access, safety, regulatory stability, design, and more, the battery recycling industry is well on its way to meeting the recycling needs of the future.
Leo Raudys is CEO and President of Call2Recycle, Inc. Working in partnership with his Board of Directors, Raudys oversees the strategic direction of Call2Recycle and the overall performance of Call2Recycle through innovative end-of-life solutions that adequately address liability that comes with batteries. As an environmental and sustainability leader, Raudys has a mix of public and private experience that spans from Fortune 100 companies to government and nonprofits. Raudys also taught corporate environmental management at the University of Minnesota.
Photo: Steve Fecht/General Motors
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