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Report: Metals recovered from recycled batteries save up to 98% in emissions compared to virgin mining

According to a report we commissioned, the recycling of raw materials used in batteries provides significant climate benefits.

Based on a recent study commissioned by Recser, the production of these recycled raw materials generates 50–98 per cent fewer emissions compared to virgin metals, which require mining and consume a considerable amount of energy.

The study was carried out by Lassila & Tikanoja in February 2023.

Recycling is definitely an action for the climate

Recycled materials replace virgin materials. When comparing the emissions of virgin materials to the emissions of recycled materials, we can determine how much greenhouse gas emissions are reduced through the production of recycled materials.

Traditional alkaline batteries can be recycled to recover valuable materials, such as zinc and iron in particular. The climate impact of recycled zinc is 50 per cent lower and that of recycled iron 85 per cent lower than their respective virgin counterparts, obtained through mining.

Important battery metals include cobalt, nickel and copper, in particular, and they are subject to a so-called recovery obligation under the upcoming EU Battery Regulation. In practice, this means that the majority of these valuable battery metals must be recovered as recycled raw materials from the batteries that are returned for recycling.

Recycling is definitely an action for the climate since e.g. the production of recycled nickel only causes 2 per cent and the production of recycled cobalt 41 per cent of the carbon emissions compared to their virgin production counterparts.

‘Circular economy solutions are effective in combating climate change. The study conducted for Recser demonstrates that recycling is indeed an action for the climate. It has been great to assist Recser in its sustainability efforts and identify areas in its operations where it can further focus on positive environmental impacts,’ says Senior Environmental Responsibility Specialist Antti Pitkämäki from Lassila & Tikanoja.

The climate impacts of recycled and virgin battery metals

Background of the study

In a study conducted by Lassila & Tikanoja, climate benefit coefficients were determined for seven metals obtained through the recycling of batteries. These coefficients illustrate the reduction of emissions compared to primary production when one tonne of metal is recycled.

The coefficients were determined based on scientific literature, and they took into account the emissions from the entire value chain of metal production, starting from mining.

Based on the literature, the best source for the coefficients was an article from 2018 [1], which assessed the environmental impacts of the demand for seven metals until 2050 under different scenarios, with recycling in mind. The coefficients for Recser were formed based on the raw data of this article by using the average metal-specific emissions in the analysed scenarios for the year 2025 (separating primary and secondary production, with the difference representing the emission reduction achieved through recycling). The article did not contain information on cobalt. Instead, another reliable source was found for cobalt, which similarly considered the entire production chain [2].

[1] Van Der Voet, E., Van Oers, L., Verboon, M. ja Kuipers K. 2018. Environmental Implications of Future Demand Scenarios for Metals: Methodology and Application to the Case of Seven Major Metals. Journal of Industrial Ecology 23 (1), 141 155.
[2] Rahimpour Golroudbary , S., Farfan , J., Lohrmann , A. ja Kraslawski , A. 2022. Environmental benefits of circular economy approach to use of cobalt. Global Environmental Change 76.