How can we best address Australia's annual 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste?

The challenge

A serious waste problem

As the demand for energy storage systems and batteries grows, so too does the amount of lithium-ion battery waste. The following statistics paint a picture of the challenge:

Research Leader Dr Anand Bhatt in CSIRO's battery laboratory.

  • Only 2 per cent of Australia's annual 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste is recycled.
  • This waste is growing by 20 per cent per year and could exceed 100,000 tonnes by 2036.
  • If recycled, 95 per cent of components can be turned into new batteries or used in other industries.
  • By comparison, of the 150,000 tonnes of lead-acid batteries sold in 2010, 98 per cent were recycled.
  • The majority of Australia's battery waste is shipped overseas, and the waste that remains left in landfill, leading to a potential fires and environmental contamination.

Our response

An in-depth study

A new report 'Lithium battery recycling in Australia' addresses growing demand for lithium-ion technology, currently used in vast quantities in electronic and household devices.The report says that Australia could become a world leader in the re-use and recycling of lithium-ion batteries.

Low battery recycling rates can be overcome through better understanding of the importance of recycling, improved collection processes, and by implementing ways to efficiently recycle materials.

The report also says that an effective recycling industry could also stabilise global lithium supplies to meet consumer demand.

[electronic sounds, CSIRO researcher adjusts large machinery]

 

[Dr Anand Bhatt faces camera]

 

Dr Anand Bhatt: CSIRO's been looking at battery technologies for the past 20-odd years. We've had a number of successes, such as developing the UltraBattery, or supercapacitors.

 

[Dr Bhatt looks inside battery equipment]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: We're currently looking at applying batteries for home energy, all the way through

 

[Lithium-ion battery test equipment shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: to grid systems, as well as, into the future,

 

[Rooftop solar panels shown]

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera]

 

Dr Bhatt: looking at how to recycle batteries that,when they each their end of life.

 

[Female researcher conducts battery experiment, wearing lab coat and safety goggles]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: The majority of lithium batteries aren't actually recycled, and most of them

 

[Rubbish dump/landfill site shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: end up in landfill sites. There's a lot of energy still left

 

[Battery control panel shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: in batteries when they reach the end-of-life applications.

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera]

 

Dr Bhatt: Worst case scenario, if a battery is punctured, or short-circuits, with a little bit of electricity still in there, you can cause fires, or explosions.

 

[Landfill fire shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: So, we're trying to find a solution that

 

[CSIRO battery laboratory shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: can cover all of the lithium batteries, which are the here-and-now, as well as

all the new batteries which are being discovered and investigated in the laboratories at the moment.

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera]

 

Dr Bhatt: For home energy systems, as well, all the way up through to the grid, lithium, again, is becoming

 

[Lithium-ion battery components shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: more and more important in these new applications.

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera]

 

Dr Bhatt: Only three percent of what's being sold in Australia

 

[3% text shown on screen]

 

Dr Bhatt: is either collected and sent off-shore for recycling. 97% ends up in landfill sites.

 

[97% text shown on screen]

 

[Rubbish dump/landfill site shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: Before we throw the battery away,

 

[Dr Bhatt using CSIRO lab equipment]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: can we use it to power something else? So, the classic example is taking a

 

[Electric vehicle refuelling station shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: electric vehicle battery, when it reaches its end-of-life in a vehicle,

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera in front of large lab equipment]

 

Dr Bhatt: it still has some energy, where it could be used potentially to power homes, or the grid.

 

[Rooftop solar panels shown]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: Try and learn and understand how much

 

[Male and female researchers shown in laboratories]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: further we can push this before we really do need to dispose of them. By understanding how a battery is made from the start, all the way from mineral resources

 

[Dr Bhatt addressing camera in front of large lab equipment, female researcher in background]

 

Dr Bhatt: through production, through the battery manufacturing industry and usage, we have a really good understanding

 

[Female researcher uses lab equipment]

 

Dr Bhatt voiceover: of how a battery should be disposed,

and how it should be recycled.

 

[electronic sounds, CSIRO logo appears with text: ‘Australia’s innovation catalyst’ + www.csiro.au]

 

 

 

 

Battery Recycling

The results

Multi-disciplinary energy storage expertise

CSIRO research is supporting recycling efforts, with research underway on processes for recovery of metals and materials, development of new battery materials, and support for the circular economy around battery reuse and recycling.

Across CSIRO's Energy, Manufacturing, and Land and Water groups, researchers are with industry to develop processes that can support the transition to domestic recycling of lithium-ion batteries.

The report also found that research, government and industry must work closely to develop standards and best-practice solutions to this issue.

Download the report

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