Beijing, 30 October 2020 — Lithium-ion batteries decommissioned from electric vehicles (EVs) and repurposed for energy storage can meet the entire world’s energy storage needs as early as 2030 — when repurposed EV batteries from passenger cars alone will value at US$15 billion globally — as EV sales surge and global lithium and cobalt supplies shrink, posing national and industry-wide supply risks, Greenpeace East Asia research shows.

“We’re about to see a tidal wave of old EV batteries hit China. How the government responds will have huge ramifications for Xi Jinping’s 2060 carbon neutral commitment. State policy indicates EVs will play a central role in emissions reduction, and Beijing needs to account for the high emissions of EV manufacturing. What we do with this wave of old batteries is actually a billion dollar, billion-ton-of-carbon dioxide question,” said Greenpeace East Asia senior program manager Ada Kong.

GPEA calculated the EV industry’s mineral supply risks [1], reuse value [2], and the carbon offset potential of circular economies for lithium-ion batteries. In all, 12.85 million tons of EV lithium-ion batteries will go offline between 2021 and 2030. At the same time, 10.35 million tons of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese will be mined for new batteries. Projections show extraction ramp up. By 2030, global battery production lithium use will be 29.7 times higher than in 2018. From 2021 to 2030, battery production will spend 30% of the world’s proven cobalt reserves.

China, Japan, and South Korea manufacture 85% of the world’s EV batteries, relying on raw material imports. These countries are at risk of price and supply instability, risks previously identified by auto manufacturers like Tesla.

5G infrastructure, data centers, and energy storage will all benefit from repurposed lithium-ion batteries. By 2025, the backup power systems for all of China’s 5G telecom stations could be supplied by repurposed batteries. These industries are all core state policy initiatives, as is EV transportation, which could enable the standardization of battery components necessary for circular economy. Batteries for shared e-bikes is another alternative use.

While EVs have low to zero emissions, battery manufacturing is carbon-intensive, including mining, processing, transport, and manufacturing. GPEA calculation showed repurposing batteries can save 63.34 million tons of carbon emissions from new battery manufacturing. Six major manufacturers account for 72% of EV battery deployment: CATL, Panasonic, BYD, LG Chem, Guoxuan Hi-Tech, and Samsung SDI.

“Repurposing is central to manufacturers’ responsibility to mitigate their carbon emissions. High consumption and throw-away economies caused climate change and resource exploitation. To make EVs a sustainable solution, battery manufacturers and automotive companies have a social responsibility to support circular economies. And governments have a responsibility to mandate recycling and repurposing systems for EV batteries,” Kong said.

Manufacturers need 100% battery tracking and re-collection, while battery life cycle becomes a core performance metric for product design, emphasizing standardization and recyclability. The government has a role in ensuring that. Likewise, as China’s state policies expand EV deployment, energy storage, and new infrastructure, policymakers need to enable repurposing of energy storage components.

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August Rick, Communications Officer, Greenpeace East Asia: [email protected]
Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

[1] Metal criticality is measured by a metal’s economic importance and its supply risk.

[2] Industry research indicated only around 80% of decommissioned batteries are reused directly or after repair.