Battery eco-design, a strategic challenge

Batteries have been around us for a long time: in our remote controls, phones, and tools... now, they are even revolutionizing the way we travel: mopeds, e-scooters or electric bikes. At the heart of micro-mobility are lithium-ion batteries. We often have the habit of getting rid of our objects when they no longer work. What about our batteries? What are they really? How long do they last and do they have a second life? This 8th edition of the European Battery Recycling Week is an opportunity to take stock of the impact of batteries on the environment.

Strategic challenges of battery recycling

The need for batteries in Europe will increase considerably over the next decade, with an estimated growth of 26% per year by 2030. The lithium-ion battery industry faces many challenges.  According to a french government report (January 2022), Europe will not produce more than 30% of its needs in strategic minerals (lithium, cobalt, nickel) for electric batteries. Our dependence on these rare metals, and our growing need for batteries, make recycling and second life key processes to meet the challenges of the coming years.

Recycling difficulties

The batteries mainly used for micro-mobility - moped, e-bikes, electric scooters - are lithium-ion batteries. They are not standardized and are subject to a wide variety of shapes, compositions and sizes. As a result, recycling must adapt to the diversity of lithium batteries, which makes the process long, difficult, sometimes dangerous and, above all, expensive.

The inadequate design of batteries makes recycling difficult and hardly economically viable. A recent scientific article* shows that 40 to 80% of the potential value of recycling is lost due to the cost of disassembly. It also reflects a linear economic model, based on planned obsolescence, meaning that it is a product destined to be thrown away.

*Current State of the Art, Circular Economy, and Next Generation Recycling

Designing batteries for recycling

All batteries are composed of several standard lithium-ion cells (similar to classical batteries you have in your remote control) linked together and delivering energy. 80% of the cells* in a battery are still in perfect condition when it is thrown away (*Gouach study, 2019. An additional study of over 200k cells is expected to be published by the end of the year).

The problem? Batteries are irreparable "black boxes": wires, glue and soldering make them difficult and time-consuming to dismantle because it is a manual and not automated process.

The inside of a classical battery, cells glued and welded together. ©Gouach

The eco-design of batteries consists in avoiding any non-reversible assembly process (welding, glue...) so that a minimal effort is required to recover the cells.

Generalized eco-design, allowing both reparability and efficient recycling, is necessary to meet the challenge of battery recycling.