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The challenge

A serious waste problem

The market for energy storage and lithium batteries is rapidly rising in Australia and globally. But as the demand increases so to does the waste. This raises the obvious questions of how we deal with the emerging waste stream from lithium batteries. And what is the end of life (EoL) strategy?

Australia produces around 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste each year. ©  Nick Pitsas

The following statistics paint a picture of the challenge:

  • The global market for lithium batteries reached nearly 250 GWh in 2020 and is predicted to increase 10 times more by 2030.
  • Electric vehicles and large stationary electrical energy storage are major contributors with the latter taking off rapidly in Australia.
  • Only 10% of Australia's lithium-ion battery waste was recycled in 2021, compared with 99% of lead acid battery waste
  • Lithium-ion battery waste is growing by 20 per cent per year and could exceed 136,000 tonnes by 2036
  • Lithium-ion batteries are a source of many valuable materials. If recycled, potentially 95% of battery components can be recovered for alternative use or may even be turned into new batteries
  • Before the 2019 introduction of a national ban on landfill followed by a 2022 battery collection system, only a small percentage of EoL Li-batteries was collected and shipped overseas for processing. Currently, there is very little capacity in Australia for processing Li-batteries and large volumes are stored in warehouses and scrap yards, creating a serious fire risk and potential for environmental contamination.
  • There is currently very little capacity in Australia for processing Li-batteries and large volumes are stored in warehouses and scrap yards, creating a serious fire risk and potential for environmental contamination.

Our response

Two in-depth studies

In 2020, CSIRO and the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre published the most up-to-date, comprehensive review of the status of the lithium-ion battery recycling industry in Australia. The 'Australian Landscape for Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling and Reuse in 2020' report was informed by CSIRO research and stakeholder surveys.

The report identified 18 opportunities for industry, government and research institutions to strengthen and grow Australia's domestic recycling capability, generate new industries and employment opportunities.

The 2020 report built on a 2018 study Lithium battery recycling in Australia to address growing demand for lithium-ion technology, currently used in vast quantities in electronic and household devices. The 2018 report indicates 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. 

[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’ +]





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The results

Multi-disciplinary energy storage expertise

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

CSIRO is leading the charge in lithium-ion battery recycling, conducting research to optimise metal and material recovery processes, develop new battery materials, and improve battery technology in the framework of circular economy. Their innovative efforts aim to maximise resource conservation, reduce environmental impact, and thus advance the sustainable evolution of battery technology.

Taking a cross-business unit approach, CSIRO's researchers are working to develop processes that can enable the transition to domestic recycling of lithium-ion batteries. The ambitious goal is further underpinned by the notion that close collaboration between research, government and industry is essential to develop standards and best-practice solutions.

Download the reports

2020 report

2018 report

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