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From Waste To Factory: The End-Of-Life Management Of EV Batteries

Electric vehicles are ushering in a paradigm shift in mobility, not only redefining transportation as a whole but quickening the pace of the evolution of how people commute, towards a more sustainable future. This shift, bolstered by a series of policy initiatives like the recent FAME II amendment that are setting the stage for a smooth transition, can be the catalyst for India to accelerate its EV adoption. Added benefits of lower running and maintenance costs, and macro benefits of reduced pollution and import dependency on fossil fuels, will further accelerate EV proliferation in India.

Estimates suggest that more than 30% of new vehicle sales will be electric by 2030, and correspondingly EV batteries will account for 80% of the market share in the Lithium-ion battery (LIB) market. While we can picture noiseless and ultra-modern EVs zipping through our roads in the future, wastelands and water bodies will be a graveyard of dead batteries, if proper planning for end-of-life battery management is not prioritized at the very beginning.

India’s need for recycling is multifold. Dumping harmful and non-biodegradable batteries in landfills will be catastrophic for the environment as well as for urban dwellings. Recycling, therefore, will reduce the waste and in fact, repurpose the raw material for battery manufacturing. The process of recovering rare metals from such electrical and electronic equipment is referred to as urban mining.

Urban mining affords a steady supply of raw materials needed to make new and affordable batteries within India, lowering the nation’s reliance on imports. Not leveraging these urban mines to harvest new batteries from old ones is not even an option for India. China has a monopoly on lithium and cobalt (major constituents of LIBs used in EVs) reserves globally, leaving limited supply options for Indian manufacturers. Owing to this skewed concentration, India has to upscale its domestic supply chain to meet the aggressive targets of EV adoption. In 2019-20 alone, India imported 450 million units of lithium batteries valued at INR 6,600 crore ($929.26 million). This reinforces the need for a more self-reliant loop where electronic wastes (especially the batteries) are mined to provide raw materials for the manufacturing industry, thereby strengthening the indigenous supply chain.

Being a dominant player in the automobile industry, India already has a skilled workforce and an enterprising community to tap into new opportunities. As we repurpose our manufacturing sector from building ICE vehicles to EVs, we can also leverage the momentum to create ancillary industries supporting EVs; a dedicated End-of-Life battery recycling ecosystem stands out. Notably, 65% of LIBs today are used in electronic appliances and data centres, but the mix is going to change significantly once EVs become the norm. It has been estimated that LIBs in India are expected to grow at a CAGR of 35.7% providing a billion-dollar opportunity for the recycling industry.

In order to strengthen the ecosystem for battery disposal and recycling, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has published the draft Battery Waste Management Rules 2020. The draft ensures safe and formalised recycling of batteries and lays out the responsibilities of manufacturers. It mandates the setting up of centres for collecting used batteries from consumers and dealers, while also making arrangements for safe transportation of old batteries from the collection centre to authorised recyclers. Such an extended producer responsibility (EPR) will ensure that the manufacturer of the battery will have the legal obligation to safely recycle and dispose of their products. Additionally, under the PLI scheme, the government has approved INR 18,000 crore to manufacture advanced chemistry cell batteries in India. The materials recovered from urban mining could be used to make new batteries, support local manufacturing, reduce the cost of the battery by eliminating import costs and simultaneously enhance India’s green energy credentials.


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