Lithium battery recycling in Australia: Current status and opportunities for developing a new industry

Recycling Lithium ion batteries Australia

Australian lithium ion battery (LIB) waste is growing at a rate of over 20 % per annum as a direct response to the increasing demand and uptake of portable and rechargeable electronic equipment and electric vehicles. In 2016, 3,300 tonnes of LIB waste was generated but only 2 % of this was collected and exported for offshore recycling. LIB waste generation is forecasted to grow to between 100,000 to 188,000 tonnes by 2036. Unfortunately, the majority of Australian LIB waste is disposed of in landfill, which has undesirable environmental and human health implications.

Given Australia’s historically poor LIB collection, combined with offshore recycling and landfilling of this waste, this constitutes an economic loss to the Australian economy due to the estimated potential recoverable value of between AUD $813 million and $3 billion based on current day commodity prices. LIB waste contains significant valuable resources like cobalt, lithium, base and other metals and graphite that could be recovered domestically and reused for new products.

Australia suffers from the often quoted ‘tyranny of distance’ to markets and a distributed population. The low battery recycling collection rates constitute a missed opportunity to both capture and add value to a waste stream. Recent disruptions to the recycling sector in Australia following the China waste ban have not affected the LIB recycling sector markets. However, the fire risk presented by end-of-life LIB has resulted in an international shipping company banning transport of this waste stream. This action poses a risk to Australia’s reliance on export for end-oflife LIB. It is therefore timely to review the challenges and opportunities associated with LIB waste and determine if it is a strategic resource opportunity for Australia. This report outlines the key findings of the review.

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