If we don't make batteries we won't recycle them
Last week the European automotive giant Robert Bosch announced that they are pulling out of development and manufacturing of lithium-ion cells. Their joint venture with GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi will be dissolved and the US startup Seeo, a pioneer in solid-state technology which Bosch acquired only a few years ago, will be sold.
The decision came only a few weeks after Electrovaya closed down their 500 MWh battery cell factory in Germany, once set up by Daimler.
For Bosch it’s most probably a wise decision which makes little difference to their position in electromobility.
But for believers in a Europe as a power region for circular economy energy storage solutions it’s really bad news.
Because if we don’t make cells there is really no need to make battery materials
If we don’t make battery materials there is no need for raw materials
And if there is no need for raw materials there is really no need for recycling
Today most of the world’s lithium-ion batteries are recycled in Asia. Of the simple reason that companies that really need something pay higher prices than those who don’t. And companies that make batteries need raw materials.
It is demand that drives efficient recycling. Not supply. Not technology, how clever it ever might be.
Instead innovation and technical development is happening when there is a strong need for it. And with two thirds of the world's battery and battery material makers in China, and almost the entire remaining third in Korea and Japan, nobody should really be surprised by the chart above showing applied patents in lithium-ion recycling in the world.
Fortunately, batteries from electric vehicles will be used in stationary storage solutions after they served their first life in the cars. And a few companies are doing a pretty good job in making that happen here in Europe.
Just don’t let us loose that initiative and the opportunity to prosper from inexpensive energy storage capacity. Only because someone else developed markets that needed it more.