China is leading in the development of innovative solutions to address the pollution problem involving electric vehicle batteries. Industry experts said the country is racing to ramp up its capacity to recycle EV batteries while also developing new technologies to address the process's shortcomings.
A report published by Fitch Solutions reveals that China now has an annual capacity to recycle 43.5 Gigawatt hours of used EV batteries through its existing recycling facilities and those still in the pipeline. The capacity is higher than the recycling capacities of Europe, with 40.9 GWh, and the U.S., with 26.3 GWh.
Being the world's largest EV market, China needs to step up its recycling efforts. It is so far the largest recycler of spent batteries in the region, with South Korea and India being the second and third largest, respectively.
With numerous EV manufacturers, China's capacity is also being bolstered by private recycling facilities. EV manufacturers such as BYD Co, Nio, XPeng, and Li Auto are expected to announce plans to develop new facilities or expand current ones in the next years.
According to the China Passenger Car Association, China's EV sector is anticipated to produce 2.4 million units of pure electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell-powered vehicles this year, more than doubling the number in 2020.
The current most common recycling method is called pyrometallurgy. The process involves the use of high temperatures to recover valuable metals from spent batteries such as nickel and cobalt.
China is currently developing more advanced methods to recover valuable metals. Experts said a process called hydrometallurgy promises to become a more environmental-friendly alternative to pyrometallurgy. The process solves the problem of soil and water pollution caused by pyrometallurgy. Industry experts said China might be shifting fully to the hydrometallurgy recycling process within the next three years.
According to Bill Ho Kam-piu, co-founder and chief scientific officer of GRST, a Hong Kong-based battery-recycling technology start-up, the water-based technique will become the majority process for future facilities.
To ensure the future availability of essential battery materials, Chinese EV manufacturers have created relationships with battery suppliers and recyclers. He stated that major recyclers such as Shenzhen-based GEM and Guangzhou-based Brunp are ramping up capacity to meet the unprecedented flood of recycling demand.
While there are no laws prohibiting particular battery recycling techniques, the Chinese government has offered policy backing and incentives to a "white list" of enterprises through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.