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New research in Nature Sustainability: Reuse key to make recycling significant in the European lithium-ion battery supply chain

Long lifetime of batteries and vehicles, export and reuse limits the growth of volumes from recycling in Europe


Active involvement from policy-makers and business model innovation required to limit future dependence on virgin raw materials


With cobalt as a case in point, the future flow of raw materials used in the European fleet of electric vehicles has been analysed by using different scenarios of how the batteries are treated in their end-of-life phase, as well as the evolvement of the cobalt content in new batteries. The findings were published in the article “Circular economy strategies for electric vehicle batteries reduce reliance on raw materials” in Nature Sustainability the 7th September, written by Joris Baars and Oliver Heidrich from Newcastle University, Teresa Domenech and Raimund Bleischwitz from University College London and Hans Eric Melin from Circular Energy Storage.

Unsurprisingly the best way to limit the dependence of cobalt is to rapidly phase in chemistries with low or no cobalt content. This will however also limit the amount of cobalt which will be available for recycling and will in the case of cobalt reduction not decrease the relative dependence on virgin cobalt although the amounts will be lower than if current NMC and NCA chemistries would continue to dominate the market.

Perhaps more surprising is that a scenario where batteries will be reused in a second life will both increase the reliance of virgin cobalt but also generate the next highest volumes of secondary cobalt produced by recyclers in Europe, only marginally beaten by a more stringent policy-driven recycling framework. For followers of Circular Energy Storage’s analysis, this should come as no surprise. Due to export of vehicles, just like in the case of portable electronics, a large amount of batteries are today lost for recyclers in Europe, at least when only Western Europe is considered. The situation is similar in the US. The only true way to stop this is to make sure that more value from the battery (+ the remaining vehicle) can be generated in Europe which makes reuse and remanufacturing very important.

The different scenarios can be used as tools when analysing various national or European raw material strategies. It should also be an important input for all players in the value chain when analysing their place in the market and the importance of potential partnerships, technological development or geographical sourcing strategies. For instance, can import of secondary cobalt to Europe from markets where vehicles finally reach end of life complement the scenarios and create a more favourable situation for recyclers.

The paper can be accessed here

For more information about the paper, please contact Professor Oliver Heidrich at Newcastle University,, phone +44 191 208 6563

For more information about Circular Energy Storage’s view on the findings or how this relates to our research, please contact Hans Eric Melin,, phone/Whatsapp +447756927479