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article imageDead lithium batteries from EVs create a problem for China

By Ken Hanly     Oct 24, 2017 in Environment
Shanghai - A Shanghai recycling plant will be faced with recycling piles of dead lithium ion batteries after spending years dismantling old television sets and computers. The dead batteries result from China's emphasis on introducing more electric vehicles (EVs).
Li Yingzhe who manages the facility that is part of the state-owned Shanghai Jinquiao Group said that the plant was undergoing upgrades and had secured licences to handle the increasing amounts of battery waste. Yingzhe said: “We believe there will be so much growth in the number of electric vehicles in the future."
Jianqxi Gangfeng Lithium and GWEM Co. Ltd. are already in the recycling market. Their share prices have been rising as they are investing in their own recycling facilities. However, those entering the market face a number of hurdles including high operating costs. However, the government is determined to increase the number of EV and phase out fossil fuel burning vehicles as part of a broader program to improve air quality especially in cities.
Sales of electric cars have been increasing in China with 507,.000 being sold in 2016 which was a 53 percent increase from 2015. The government hopes to see sales of 2 million EVs by 2020 and 7 million by 2025. That would be still just be a fifth of Chinese vehicle production. According to the International Energy Agency. China accounted for 40 percent of global EV sales last year. It is also is now the largest market for EVs beating out the US.
As the number of EVs in China increase, so has the production of lithium batteries. So far this year China has produced 6.7 billion batteries up over half from the same period last year according to Chinese government data. China produced its first EVs in 2009. As these cars reach the end of their lifespan the amount of lithium battery waste will soar. Industry experts estimate that by next year there will be 170,000 tons.
While the dead batteries are not classified as hazardous waste as yet and so not so far subject to stringent disposal standards, the waste does include heavy metals such as cobalt and nickel, and toxic residues that might end up in waterways and the soil if not properly handled. However, the recycling industry could profit from the waste with the China Automobile Association estimating the recycling market to be worth $4.68 billion by 2023.
Wang Chuanfu, who is president of BYD Co Ltd. the leading Chinese EV maker described the lithium,. copper, and cobalt that can be extracted from the spent batteries as "treasures". Already the share prices of two recycling companies has soared more than 200 percent just this year.
Yet costs for recycling are very high and there is no agreement yet on standardization. Some company executives say that the government is not providing sufficient subsidies and needs to better enforce environmental regulations.
Zhang Tianren, chair of Tianneng Power that makes batteries said in a proposal to China's parliament last March: “Speeding up the recycling of lithium batteries is a matter of urgency, and has become a major issue for the development of the new energy vehicle industry.” Zhang said the recycling industry was plagued by soaring costs of recycling as well as high taxes.
Zihang cited one recycling company that claimed the value of materials it extracted from one tonne of lithium-ion-phosphate battery waste was 8,110 yuan but the cost of recycling would be 8,540 yuan. Zhang said automation was being held back by lack of standardized product designs and also poor equipment and technology especially among smaller recyclers.
Last year, the industry minister had urged the industry to introduce standardized designs and improve technology to international levels by 2020. Zhang complained that regulators were not enforcing policies or penalizing companies that did not meet qualifications.
Zhang claimed: “Because policies are not enforced and there is no clear incentive mechanism, lithium battery recycling is not profitable." The Chinese government did not respond to requests for comments on Zhang's remarks.
Battery-making companies are for now bearing most of the cost of recycling batteries. Automakers are technically liable for recycling the batteries but have managed to sign deals with suppliers that passes the cost of recycling onto them. Green Cheng CEO of Shenzhen Cham Battery Technology Co claimed that recycling was becoming a strain on the resources of battery manufacturers.
The company makes about 300,000 lithium batteries a day at its factory in Dongguan in southern China. The company pays a recycling company to recycle its batteries. Cheng said: “If manufacturers like us are going to be responsible, then the government definitely needs to provide funds to support us."
The US EV-maker Tesla has just announced that it will build a plant in Shanghai as more foreign and Chinese companies join to make China the global leader in the manufacture of EVs. However, it will also become the world leader in the production of waste battery material. China will need to develop policies to avoid this waste from becoming a new pollution problem within the country.
More about Lithium ion batteries, electric vehicles, China recycling
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