Researchers have predicted that China could achieve a circular economy in electric vehicle batteries before Europe and the US.
They said that 2059 onwards, China will be able to employ recycling to meet its own demand for primary lithium for electric vehicles, obtained through mining.
However, Europe and the US will not achieve this feat until after 2070, the scientists from the University of Münster, Germany, said.
They conducted an analysis to find when the demand for the three most important raw materials for batteries -- lithium, cobalt and nickel - could be met entirely through recycling in Europe, the US and China and when a completely circular economy would be possible in this segment in these regions.
The research team has published its findings in the journal Resources Conservation and Recycling.
With regards to cobalt, the researchers found that China would be able to meet its needs through recycling after 2045, at the earliest, whereas in Europe and the US, this would not be possible until 2052 and 2056, respectively.
Further, regarding its nickel needs, China would be able to meet it through recycling in 2046, with Europe following in 2058 and the US from 2064 onwards, the researchers predicted.
For the study, the team used data from current research work and market forecasts regarding developments in battery production and sales and the associated demand for raw materials.
They then performed a dynamic material flow analysis to calculate both future demand and the recyclable raw materials then available.
They said that while previous studies have looked at the supply of recycled raw materials for batteries and the demand for them, it was not yet clear as to when "complete circularity" would be achieved in these three regions.
Complete circularity is achieved when the supply of the material equals its demand, also known as the break-even point, they explained.
The researchers also examined the possibilities of achieving equilibrium sooner than is predicted by current developments.
Affirming the likelihood of these possibilities, researcher and professor Stephan von Delft said, "Our research shows that, in particular, a faster rate of electrification in the automotive industry, as is currently being discussed in the EU, will play a role in the process.
"The reason is that the faster electric vehicles spread throughout the automotive market, the sooner there will be sufficient quantities of batteries available for recycling." "The demand for raw materials could also be met much earlier by recycling as a result of a reduction in battery size and by avoiding a so-called 'second life' for batteries, for example as stationary storage units for solar power," added PhD student Jannis Wesselkämper, also the study's corresponding author.
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