WEEE warns of battery material shortage

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Cobalt and lithium supplies under pressure as new generation of electric cars, e-scooters and drones fuel demand

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5 October 2020 | 0

WEEE Ireland has called for consumers to recycle their used lithium batteries on the back of conerns from industry experts that the demand for raw materials is about to exceed supply.

A surge in sales of devices such as laptops, drones, power tools and e-scooters has seen demand soaring for cobalt and lithium, which are essential for the production of rechargeable lithium batteries that power these devices.

Demand for e-cars, e-bikes, phones, smartwatches and fitness monitoring devices are also putting pressure on these two key materials.

 

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In the first six months of 2020 alone, WEEE Ireland reported a 50% increase in rechargeable lithium batteries entering the Irish market.

“The global demand for cobalt has tripled in the past five years but there is a limited supply. We need to find ways to ensure we have sustainable reserves. There’s one simple way to do this and that’s recycling our old devices,” said Leo Donovan of WEEE Ireland.

“Many of us needlessly hold onto end-of-life gadgets that we’ve already replaced, such as phones and laptops, storing them in our attics, spare rooms, sheds and kitchen drawers.

“By doing so, we are unwittingly contributing to an ever-growing supply problem as many of the metals and compounds can’t be recovered to be re-used in the manufacture of new batteries.

“Lithium batteries are a key underpinning technology in the modern world. They power mobile devices vital to government, business, healthcare and society and are essential to the decarbonisation of transport, a key goal of the Climate Action Plan (CAP).

“By 2030, the Irish economy will be more dependent on the supply and efficiency of lithium batteries to power transport and communications if we are to meet the CAP and help to limit the effect of climate change.”

Research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests there is not enough capability to mine and process the materials to meet that demand, which could reach 430,000 tonnes in the next decade, about 1.6 times today’s capacity.

Separate research from the European Commission reveals the EU will need up to 18 times more lithium and five times more cobalt in 2030 for electric vehicle batteries and energy storage and almost 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt in 2050, compared to the current supply.

“As consumers we can all play our part in increasing supply by recycling all of our end-of-life devices. This can be done by taking them to local authority recycling centres nationwide or any retail store that sells batteries,” said Donovan.

TechCentral Reporters

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