LIB-SARS project – Support the development of a Swiss industry-led take-back system of Lithium-Ion Batteries from the automotive sector

In only a few years, electric vehicles stopped being an oddity reserved for a wealthy and interested niche-clientele to become the fastest growing automotive technology on the Swiss vehicle market. This trend is expected to continue. Electric mobility can take many forms, such as battery electric vehicles (BEV), hybrid (HEV) or plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). Different types of batteries are used depending on the type chosen, the brand or the model, or the type of use. However, Lithium-Ion batteries (LIB), are at present the dominant technology for BEV. Research is ongoing on how to avoid Lithium in future battery chemistries. However, the quantity of used batteries to be disposed of will inevitably follow the same trend. Building an efficient, safe and sustainable recycling system for this emerging source of waste is thus essential.

In this context, the LIB take back and disposal project of SARS (Foundation Auto Recycling Switzerland) aims to support this effort by designing several LIB reverse logistics and recycling system variants, test their behaviour against multiple possible evolution scenarii using computer models, and compare the simulation results in order to provide useful insights to the sectoral stakeholders.

The model is realized based on the dynamic Mass Flow Analysis (MFA) method that allows to evaluate the future end of life LIB flows, as well as the materials they contain. Recycling is also part of the model, which allows quantifying how the materials composing the LIBs spread through different treatment technologies. A system dynamics (SD) model is used to analyse and compare different financing possibilities of the system. Possible evolution scenarii include variation in availability in critical raw material necessary for battery manufacturing, different future market sharing among vehicle technologies, changing mobility habits of the Swiss population, etc.

Figure: Conceptual representation of a reverse logistics system and its model

A comparative analysis of all the tested variants will help to identify the best system candidates, anticipate the volumes of end of life LIB and materials they contain to be recycled, as well as to estimate the overall costs. Those results are essential for the stakeholders to then implement a realistic and efficient reverse logistics and recycling system.