On Friday, November 12, at the 78th Annual ARA Convention & Expo, in Dallas, TX, we assembled an expert panel to discuss what “electrification” will mean for automotive recycling. Dirk Spiers, Founder of Spiers New Technologies, and Lea Malloy, Head of EV Battery Solutions of Cox Automotive Mobility, now partners, provided an update on what they hope to be a “one stop” solution for battery life cycle management to include both reuse and recycle. Matt Watson, Director of Precious Metals Commodity Management LLC, presented research on energy trends and the heightened critical mineral demands of the future. With differing views on many topics, the panel agreed that future complexities will mean future opportunities for harvesting critical technology materials from end-of-life vehicles.
In short, recyclers are receiving hybrid and electric vehicles with batteries that need environmentally responsible and profitable solutions. ARA electric certification and EV battery handling programs from trainers like Andy Latham of Salvage Wire, provide the crucial first step before the sale; namely, removal of the battery while keeping employees safe. The next decision for the recyclers is where to sell the battery. Remanufacturing and reuse, as a rule, tend to be more profitable than recycling. A decision tree forms depending on the chemistry of the battery, the state of charge, and logistics.
In a September 1, 2021, press release, Cox Automotive announced as part of the Spiers New Technologies (SNT) acquisition, that “the new independent, third-party battery health diagnostic tool built by SNT and Cox Automotive Mobility is powered by SNT’s ALFRED battery decisioning platform. This battery health diagnostic tool is becoming the industry standard used globally to assess the condition and value of EV batteries, filling a void in the new and used EV category. Cox Automotive is currently delivering EV battery health reports as part of its Manheim condition reports at select auction locations.”
Automotive recyclers, Daniel Baldwin, of Nevada Pic A Part, wanted to know when the panel thought the battery supply chain would develop profitability and Jim Watson, of ABC Auto Parts, asked if they anticipated automotive recyclers being included in the loop. Malloy answered affirmatively regarding inclusion of recyclers in the end-of-life solution and Spiers emphasized the importance of taking in all chemistries, and not “cherry-picking” loads, to make the business case positive for both the end-to-end solution provider and the recycler. Important to note is that transportation of nickel-based and lithium-based batteries require special handling under the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, section UN 38.3.
Matt Watson explained to the audience how lithium-based batteries containing higher percentages of cobalt and nickel would make the business case positive for recycling while lithium iron phosphate compositions or LFPs, with less expensive materials, cost money to recycle. For several years, Umicore Battery Recycling in Hoboken, Belgium, has been able to recycle all types and all sizes of Li-ion and NiMH batteries into cobalt, nickel, and copper alloys, with partner company Solvay, in France, that can further reclaim rare earth elements (REE) concentrates found in the pyrometallurgical slag. This operation has primarily served extended manufacturer responsibility take-back schemes in Europe and other parts of the world. Today, however, through the efforts of organizations like Call2Recycle, a battery recycling and stewardship program, batteries move through sorting partners and specific chemistry batteries are shipped to appropriate specialty processors. The processors extract useable metals to be used in the manufacturing of new products. Waste products are responsibly and safely disposed of according to Responsible Recycling (R2) and Basel Action Network (BAN) standards. The importance of selling to responsible parties cannot be overstated, as not doing so can become a liability to the recycler that generated and received payment for the scrap.
Watson made his case that there are serious mineral constraints for lithium, nickel, and cobalt, to meet the lithium battery production demand. He differentiated the amount of platinum group metals (PGMs) needed between a base case (minimum) and a zero-emission mandate (maximum) level being reached. The majority of auto catalyst scrap recovery will be in palladium while the demand for palladium will decrease significantly 20 years after the ICE vehicles retire. Higher PGM coatings will be required for hybrid vehicles due to cold starts and higher emission standards, but there is no such need for the metals in fully electric vehicles. Hydrogen vehicles, on the other hand, require large amounts of platinum.
Watson told the audience that copper and silver drive the electrification of everything and will be in high demand. Silver is the best conductor of energy with copper a close second, gold, and expensive third, and aluminum a distant 4th. He stated that 560 metric tons of copper had been mined in the past 1,000 years. We will be needing double that amount for the next 30 years for clean energy and the electrification of everything.
The bottom line is that it is a great time to be in recycling. These critical technology metals will be in demand and auto recyclers will have a continuous supply. The prices for these metals are likely to climb over the long term. Since recycling has a lower carbon footprint than mining, many OEMs get higher credits for using recycled ounces than mined ounces. This is more good news for auto recyclers.
If you have questions about this article or any issue pertaining to the recovery of precious metals and materials from automotive recycling, we, at United Catalyst, are here to help you. United Catalyst Corporation is a processor of scrap catalytic converters that offers global refining services. Our recycling solutions are accurate, scientific, and verifiable to get you the most money. United Catalyst is a processor you can trust.
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Becky Berube serves the recycling community as President of United Catalyst Corporation, Co-Chair of the Automotive Recycling Association’s Events Advisory Committee, and is an ExCom Board Member of the International Precious Metals Institute. She can be reached at 864-834-2003 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.