Swedish startup Northvolt is building the largest battery recycling plant in the world, located in Skellefteå, Sweden. Founded in 2016 by former Tesla vice president Peter Carlsson, the battery manufacturer aims to create the world’s greenest battery with its Revolt Ett plant.
The surge in demand for lithium batteries, driven by the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, has led to ecological and social damage in developing areas where rare earth materials for these batteries are mined.
At the end of their lifespan, batteries are typically challenging to recycle, resulting in a significant environmental issue. In addition, when batteries are discarded in landfills, they may erode and release hazardous chemicals into the surroundings, leading to soil and water contamination.
Northvolt has developed a method to separate materials like copper, aluminum and plastic for recycling and extract nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium.
When Northvolt’s new method reaches maximum efficiency, it is projected to recycle 125,000 tons of battery materials annually. This is important because over 1.2 million tons of batteries will have reached the end of their lifespan in 2025, according to S&P Global’s IHS Markit. Northvolt aims to incorporate 50 percent recycled metals into its batteries by 2030 and aspires to use mostly recycled raw materials in its batteries by 2040.
Northvolt’s chief environmental officer Emma Nehrenheim has urged the battery industry to adopt a circular manufacturing approach to “close all loops.” She considers material loss, where materials end up in landfills or are scrapped instead of being recycled, to be the biggest challenge facing the industry.
Northvolt’s recycling facility is not just limited to recycling its own batteries. It can recycle other manufacturers’ batteries that use lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide or lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide chemistries.
The battery recycling industry is still in its infancy, but Northvolt’s investment in this technology shows its commitment to sustainability and creating a circular economy for batteries. As more companies follow Northvolt’s lead, battery recycling could become a standard practice in the future.