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The curious case of battery recycling: India’s scenario

Lithium-ion battery recycling has emerged as a buzzword in the recycling industry, offering promises of profitability and environmental stewardship. However, the reality behind the scenes presents a more nuanced picture. Rahul Jha delves into the challenges faced by Indian battery recyclers and how they navigate the complexities of the current market landscape.

In India, lithium-ion battery recycling is currently divided into two segments:

  • (A) Upto Black Mass Production: This segment involves processes such as shredding, crushing, and separating black mass, plastics, and copper- aluminium scrap. Several recyclers have established themselves in this domain, leveraging imported and indigenous machinery to process battery components. However, the focus often remains on maximizing profits without due consideration for environmental impact or downstream consequences.
  • (B) Black Mass Refiners: These entities undertake the challenging task of actual recycling, refining black mass into usable materials. Despite their crucial role in the recycling chain, black mass refiners often find themselves overlooked and marginalized within the industry.

Category A recyclers, engaged in the process up to black mass production, prioritize profitability over sustainability. The rush to secure favourable payable rates for black mass has led to a competitive race among recyclers, driving up prices and creating opportunities for unscrupulous scrap dealers to exploit the market. While Category A recyclers reap profits, the fate of plastic waste remains a looming question, with no clear destination or recycling pathway in sight.

Black mass refiners (Category B), tasked with the actual recycling and refining of battery materials, face myriad challenges. Often sidelined by government policies and industry stakeholders, they struggle to expand their operations and find markets for their finished products. Despite their critical role in closing the recycling loop, Category B refiners lack the recognition and support afforded to their counterparts in the up-to-black mass production segment.

Incentivizing Refiners: The new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regime proposed by the Central Pollution Control Board could provide a framework for incentivizing refiners. By compelling producers to invest in recycling and refining initiatives, the government can stimulate growth in the sector and promote sustainable practices.

Industry Collaboration: Producers, recyclers, and refiners must collaborate to establish a robust recycling ecosystem. This entails streamlining regulatory processes, enhancing market access for refiners, and fostering a culture of responsible recycling within the industry.

Public Awareness and Education: Increasing public awareness about the importance of battery recycling and the role of refiners is crucial. Educating consumers about proper disposal methods and the environmental benefits of recycling can drive demand for recycled materials and support the growth of the recycling industry.

While lithium-ion battery recycling holds immense potential for India’s sustainable development, realizing this potential requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders. By addressing the challenges faced by recyclers and refiners, India can pave the way for a greener, more resilient future.

Rahul Jha works with ADV Metal Combine Pvt. Ltd. ADV Metal Combine was incorporated in 1997 and has since engaged in the waste recycling business. Their LIB and E-waste recycling division in Bhilai, Chhatisgarh, became functional in 2008 by jointly developing technologies with CSIR-NML Jamshedpur and, later on, BARC. ADV has a fully functional LIB recycling facility in which they produce battery-grade raw materials such as Cobalt Sulphate, Lithium Carbonate, Nickel Sulphate, Copper Sulphate and Manganese Sulphate. Currently, the company is operational and has been licenced to handle 2500MT/Annum Li-ion Battery waste.

Also read: Lithium-ion battery recycling in India- Need to build local refining capabilities to curb black mass export

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