Britain ‘not set up’ for recycling car batteries
Electric car batteries are being sent to Europe for recycling, a study has found, amid expert warnings that Britain is not ready for the electric vehicle revolution.
The UK urgently needs to establish its own battery recycling facilities to avoid paying to ship batteries to Europe and losing out on a multi-million pound industry as it makes the transition to electric vehicles, experts have warned.
Britain currently has no plans to set up its own recycling facilities for lithium-ion batteries, despite this week announcing a ban on new combustion engines within ten years.
Any old EV batteries must instead be stored in the UK and then shipped to recycling facilities in Europe, including Germany, Belgium and Finland.
Up to 75 per cent of the cost of recycling the batteries can go on transportation, according to a study from the University of Warwick.
Sending batteries overseas also means the UK loses the valuable precious metals which can be reused in new batteries, leaving it dependent on imports.
By 2040, there are expected to be 339,000 tonnes of EV batteries reaching the end of their life annually, according to the University of Warwick, with an average value of £3.3 per kg.
Caspar Rawles, of analysts Benchmark Minerals, said the UK needs to establish its own recycling industry “as a matter of urgency”.
The calls come amid criticism that the UK’s ambitious goal for phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles is not matched by plans for the necessary infrastructure.
Stephen Gifford, chief economist of the Faraday Institution, which specialises in battery research and development, said it would take three to five years to establish a recycling facility, from the point when the Government decided to give it the green light.
He warned that without proper facilities, “in the worst case it might be difficult to transport battery waste overseas, and we will have a build up of battery waste in this country.”
Although there are few EV batteries currently reaching their end of life, numbers will swiftly rise with increasing sales of electric cars.
“There will be so much recyclable material that it won’t be safe to stockpile in the UK and then export to Europe,” Mr Gifford said.
“Plus, with the amount of EVs that are likely to be sold, it’s pretty crucial for the supply of raw materials that we don’t wholly depend on imports.”
Dr Paul Anderson, co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials, said current recycling facilities also produced large amounts of CO2 to process the materials.
“Ultimately, that route is not the decarbonized decommissioning that we are after to bring about the zero-emissions future that we want,” he said.
He added that the UK would need to step up its metal recycling facilities to match its green ambitions across industry and energy production.
"The UK has scaled back its metals processing industry a considerable amount,” he said. “We’ll actually, potentially, be setting on enormous amounts of this material, because there is something in the region of half a tonne in each offshore wind turbine, and Britain has some of the biggest wind offshore wind farms on the globe.
“Britain does potentially have an enormous stockpile of various materials, provided that it is able to recover them and recycle them."