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Monday, May 23, 2022

Earth Day: Why Attero Recycling is focusing on the problem of used EV batteries

Lithium mining causes water depletion, ground destabilisation, biodiversity loss, the increased salinity of rivers and water bodies, and the contamination of soil.

Written by Sethu Pradeep | Thalassery |
Updated: April 22, 2022 3:12:21 pm
Lithium ion battery recycling facilityAttero's lithium-ion battery recycling facility in Roorkee. (Image credit: Attero Recycling)

The latest vehicle sales data shows that Indians are adopting electric vehicles (EVs) at an rapid pace. But simply adopting EVs isn’t enough to contribute meaningfully towards solving the world’s environmental problems. The growing demand for EVs will mean more used lithium-ion batteries, which will only exacerbate the environmental problems. That’s the issue that Noida-based Attero Recycling hopes to solve. Attero recycles end-of-life lithium-ion batteries and harvests metals like lithium, cobalt, tin, nickel, copper, silver and gold so that they can be reused in manufacturing.

“Each of these metals has significant ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues. For example, lithium mining is a water-guzzling process. For context, extracting one tonne of lithium using a traditional lithium mining process requires more than 500,000 gallons of water, which causes a huge amount of ecological, social challenges that come with it,” explained Nitin Gupta, CEO of Attero Recycling to indianexpress.com.

Lithium mining causes water depletion, ground destabilisation, biodiversity loss, the increased salinity of rivers and water bodies, and the contamination of soil. Hence the need to recycle this metal is doubly critical.

The company claims that it recycles lithium-ion batteries with an efficiency of 98 per cent. It also claims to have the capability to recycle 11,000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries a year and is looking to expand that capacity to 50,000 tonnes in the coming year.
Gupta believes that battery recycling can help the country environmentally, but that it can also help India become a battery-manufacturing powerhouse.

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“Unfortunately, we continue with today we rely on 100 per cent imports. There is no domestic capacity for manufacturing lithium-ion cells. Even if we set up the manufacturing capabilities for a cell to get manufactured, you need lithium, nickel, and graphite. India does not have reserves or mines with either cobalt or lithium. 97 per cent of the world’s lithium supply and a large portion of the world’s cobalt supply still come from China, directly or indirectly. So there are geopolitical issues,” said Gupta. Recycled batteries could fix this dependency on imports.

He also feels that the government needs to give more incentives to reusing and recycling products, instead of scrapping them. Some of these incentives are already put in place by the Union government and some state governments.

For example, the Delhi government has an ambitious plan to be the electric vehicle capital of India; a part of the policy will “encourage the reuse of EV batteries that have reached the end of their life and setting up of recycling businesses in collaboration with battery and EV manufacturers that focus on ‘urban mining’ of rare materials within the battery for re-use by battery manufacturers.”

According to Gupta, while policy is heading in the right direction, it is moving “slightly slower than expected.” JMK Research reports that the recycling of lithium-ion batteries is a $1 billion market opportunity in India. Despite this, very few companies recycle these batteries and extract the materials within them at scale.

Until this gap is addressed, the increased adoption of electric vehicles, and consequently, mineral mining, will continue to negatively affect the environment for years to come.

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