A Chinese battery tech giant is looking for its next beanstalks — and they just might be growing in Europe and North America.
It’s big news for the world’s largest power pack innovator (it has held the top spot for six straight years). Since the expansion would involve CATL’s battery recycling division, it could also be a big win for sustainability in the industry.
The company has pumped tens of billions of dollars into recycling, according to Electrek. And, CATL has reported some solid returns on the investment. A flow chart on the company website showed the path an electric vehicle battery takes, from creation through retirement. Some batteries can be used to store energy before being broken down to reclaim the rare metals inside.
“We believe recycling is a must; otherwise when a vehicle retires, what do you do? It’s polluting soil, difficult, dangerous, and can be explosive,” CATL Chief Manufacturing Officer Ni Jun said, per Electrek.
The recycling process recovers nearly 100% of the nickel, cobalt, and manganese used in the batteries and around 90% of the lithium. These are metals that require invasive mining to procure. The company says there’s a 50% recycling rate of used batteries in China. However, other reports have that figure of recycled materials between 30% and 40%.
Princeton University reported that around 5% of U.S. lithium-ion batteries are recycled. More companies have since joined the recycling effort, including for smartphones, so the percentages may be improving.
CATL was established in 2011 and already operates internationally. It has subsidiaries in France, the U.S., Canada, and Japan, and has partnerships with companies like BMW, among other efforts outside of China.
The tech giant also has some sci-fi-like projects described on its website in addition to the more common battery science already in place. One is a “bionic self-repairing electrolyte,” geared to improve battery cycling and storage. It’s still being developed.
That said, the company is open to competition, according to its leaders.
“I hope that more and more inventors will dedicate themselves to the e-mobility and energy transition so that together we can develop more innovations for the benefit of mankind,” CATL’s chief scientist, Wu Kai, said in a press release.
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