With a mission to improve the authentication and sustainable management of batteries for electric vehicles, OPTEL’s battery traceability solution has become a game-changer for stakeholders in the entire automotive industry looking to implement a worldwide battery passport system in the near future.

This blog series looks into the origins behind the importance of battery traceability and how a global battery passport aims to resolve the many ESG challenges mining companies, mineral processors, battery makers, and EV manufacturers face.

This is the third article in our series. To read the first article, click here. The second article can be found here.

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Demand for EVs shows no signs of slowing down as nations around the world point to their potential positive impact in curbing greenhouse emissions when manufactured with sustainable materials and processes.

Currently, however, automakers face a pressing challenge to improve the types of batteries they use to electrify their fleets. Until recently, lead-acid batteries were the most widely used solutions for EVs in the automotive industry thanks to their affordability from a commodity and production perspective. Furthermore, lead-acid batteries are highly recyclable, with many countries achieving above 90% recyclability rates. In fact, an average battery can contain up to 10 kilograms of lead; according to the UN Environment Programme “recycled lead is a valuable commodity for many people in the developing world, making the recovery of car batteries […] a viable and profitable business…”

Unfortunately, recycling lead-acid batteries, often carried out using inappropriate recycling methods, emit substantial amounts of lead particles into the atmosphere, which also contaminate bodies of water and soil, causing negative impacts on both human and environmental health. Some recycling plants have even had to shut down as they failed to meet waste management standards and emission controls. And the problem appears to be rampant in both developing nations as well as developed countries with the proper regulations.

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Over the past few years, many EV manufacturers have encountered a golden opportunity to eliminate lead-acid batteries in favour of lithium-ion batteries, which have substantially better energy capacity levels, increased longevity, and no harmful lead.

However, several challenges remain as to how they can be re-used and recycled. The reason? Increased energy performance levels do not mean better reusability and recyclability. It is estimated that only 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled.

The primary reason is that few EV lithium-ion batteries have reached their end-of-life stage because of their durability and the fact that they haven’t been on the market for as long as lead-acid batteries. But that is soon to change. By some estimates, over 12 million tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to be decommissioned by 2030.

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Slow progress has also been made in developing environmentally friendly ways to recycle lithium batteries. Because current recycling has taken place mainly with small electronic devices, the economic payback has been lackluster at best. Scaling up recycling processes for EV batteries is equally a tremendous challenge as manufacturers and scientists have been focused more on reducing costs, improving battery useful life, and boosting charging capacities—not on recyclability. That is why most lithium-ion batteries are sent to landfills, where they leach contaminants to the surrounding environment.

Although lithium-ion batteries are perceived as less toxic than lead-acid batteries, their cells are nevertheless made up of hundreds of cells that need to be dismantled in order to be recycled. These cells contain dangerous materials and can potentially explode if not handled properly.

Finally, battery recycling, as is practiced today and regardless of the technology, is “extremely labor- and resource-intensive that it generally exceeds the costs of digging up new materials from the ground.” What’s more: it uses large amounts of water and emits hazardous air pollutants. For example, to recycle materials in lithium-ion batteries, pyro- and hydrometallurgical processes must be used, which necessitate lots of energy and product toxic waste.


Not everything is doom and gloom when it comes to recycling lithium-ion batteries for EVs.

With the boom in EVs and the batteries that power them, mineral demand is set to skyrocket as well. Lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper are all minerals used to make lithium-ion batteries; the vast majority are sourced from mines in Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China where environmental stewardship and human rights are often lax.

Moreover, rising demand for minerals could also result in supply shortages and huge price swings, according to some experts. This is leading manufacturers to experiment with new blends of raw materials, such as low-cobalt or cobalt-free batteries. Research is also underway to remove nickel as well. However, the EV industry is far from completely irradicating the minerals required for lithium-ion batteries.

Mounting pressure from industry stakeholders is forcing battery- and automakers to adopt more sustainable alternatives in sourcing materials. And better recycling may be very well the answer.

New techniques that foster chemical-free and more direct, scalable recycling recover more materials from lithium-ion batteries that have reached the end of their first useful life. These new approaches to recycling batteries could inevitably reduce the need to refine and transport new minerals. Based on some forecasts, recycled minerals could supply up to 50% of those needed for new batteries by 2040.

When lithium-ion batteries attain the end of their useful life in EVs, they often still keep approximately 2/3 of their energy storage. As a result, they could also be repurposed for use in applications that require lower power levels or even for backup storage for renewable energy, such as solar or wind farms.

Yole Development, a consulting firm in Europe, projects that the “global value of the recycled materials sector for lithium-ion technologies will grow at a CAGR of 25% between 2020 and 2025, with a total market value close to $1.2 billion after the five-year period alone.” By 2040, that figure is estimated to be as high as $24 billion, which underscores the tremendous opportunity for EV battery recyclers—and manufacturers.

Tesla announced in 2020 that it was planning to implement battery recycling capabilities at its Gigafactory in Nevada. The plant is being organized to extract minerals, including cobalt and copper, so that they can be reintroduced into the value chain. And this is just the beginning.

In sum, opportunities abound to create a more viable and sustainable circular economy with EV batteries.


As global initiatives evolve to make EV battery production more sustainable and develop integrated tools, such as the Global Battery Alliances’ Battery Passport, which is slated to be available for industry stakeholders within the next year or two, a thriving circular battery value chain is likely to emerge.

The premise of a battery passport is simple: it would be a unique digital ID that would be attributed to each EV battery. The digital ID would include critical information, including comprehensive production, usage and maintenance history, etc. The goal of a battery passport is to enable any and all stakeholders to properly ascertain whether or not batteries are sourced based on high ESG standards.

The battery passport will also provide detailed data on the battery’s chemical composition, lifespan status, and current performance levels. From a recycling perspective, this data will be critical for determining the best handling, recycling, refurbishing, disposal pathways for EV batteries.

According to the Global Battery Alliance, battery passports, along with financial and regulatory incentives, are likely to be the motivating forces for the growth of EV battery recycling plants across the globe as countries will begin to perceive the competitive edge sustainable EV battery recycling can afford.

Prompted by the EV battery passport project, the United States and Europe are already in the midst of creating strategic recycling frameworks that will leverage a worldwide battery passport platform in the hopes that it will become standardized in the years to come. In particular, the European Union has set ambitious targets for the upcoming decades: 70% of lithium-ion batteries are to be collected by 2030. Four percent of lithium-ion batteries made in the EU must be manufactured from recycled materials; this goal will increase to 10% by 2035.

These types of requirements, again, highlight the importance of a universal battery passport to authenticate EV batteries in terms of where they are landed in the circular economy. Interlinked data included in the passports could help prevent fraud and guarantee ESG compliance.

Regardless of the EV battery recycling processes that will become the norm in the future, battery passports will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in ensuring the integrity and transparency of EV battery revalorization and the long-term sustainability of EVs to solve the climate crisis.

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