The modern world has used lead-acid batteries for over 100 years. The combination of several factors (1) lead is easy to recover (2) lead is toxic and dangerous to leave in the environment, makes lead acid batteries one of the most recycled products – over 99!. To read more on my why recycling lead batteries is easy, but recycling lithium batteries is hard, read HERE.
The short version of why recycling lithium batteries are hard to recycle is that (1) They aren’t standardized yet, (2) material recovery is more complex than just smelting, and (3) we just haven’t done it yet – the technology is too new. Look ahead perhaps a decade, and we likely will have dandy lithium battery recycling.
Lithium recycling today comes down to one use case – cell reuse. And that case applies to only 1 battery type – lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Because these are standardized enough. The world really wants to harvest lithium from used batteries to use in new batteries – but we aren’t there yet. Lots of people are working on it.
Breaking down the conversation into 3 battery types – (1) Lithium primary, (2) lithium-ion rechargeable, and (3) lithium iron phosphate (LiFeO2) recycling, expect to pay a lot more for two out of three. Lithium primary and lithium iron phosphate batteries are expensive!
Here is the tale of two nominally similar battery packs. Both are 12V, about 20 AH, about 15 lb. For the LiFePO4 battery, we have to charge $75 to recycle it! We can accept the Lithium-ion battery pack for free (from existing customers).
Remember, lithium-based batteries are quite hazardous little fire bombs if you dispose of improperly. Don’t be the company that causes your local garbage truck or landfill to catch fire. But also know that lithium battery recycling may come with significant costs!