General Motors Co. and battery cell manufacturing partner LG Energy Solution are partnering with a Canadian company to recycle battery cell manufacturing scrap — a move that aims to achieve environmental goals and cut costs.
Ultium Cells LLC, a joint venture between GM and LG, will work with recycling company Li-Cycle Corp. to recycle up to 100% of the material scrap from battery cell manufacturing with 95% percent of the materials going to the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries, the automaker said.
Figuring out the recycling of raw battery materials, including lithium and cobalt, is an important step for all automakers to make, experts say, one that will continue to be important as automakers increase electric vehicle production.
"The more material that you can recycle and recover, either from production scrap or from end-of-life batteries, every pound that you can get from those sources is one less pound that you have to mine and process in virgin materials," said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights. He added that there's "potentially huge savings if they can use recovered materials rather than virgin material for the batteries — and the environmental impact is also huge."
But GM and LG do not know yet if the raw materials recycled and sent to Li-Cycle can then be reused in their Ultium battery production process.
"We're going to investigate that," Pablo Valencia, GM's senior manager of battery lifecycle, said in an interview Tuesday with The Detroit News.
And as far as if this will save GM and LG money, Valencia said: "We don't know that yet, but a really important point is that this recycling contract is a positive value to the material coming out of the plant."
Historically, lithium ion recycling "has cost more than what it was worth," Valencia explained. But then came a new wave of recyclers like Li-Cycle with processes that know "how to extract the highest level of value out of the scrap material."
"It's a game changer," he said. "It's a complete game changer."
Raw materials represent the majority of the cost in battery cells. Automakers, including GM, want to offer EVs at a range of prices, and lowering battery cell production costs could help.