Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Electric vehicles are becoming more and more common with each passing year, and their adoption is only expected to accelerate. Some estimates predict a third of new vehicles sold by the year 2030 will be electric, and that poses something of a delayed problem. What do we do with all the lithium ion batteries that powered those electric vehicles, once they go back? Do we just chuck them in the landfill and make fresh ones? Or is there a way to squeeze more juice out of a used battery? There are a lot of reasons to recycle lithium ion batteries. For starters, they use a variety of raw materials like lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. Every kilogram of raw material recovered from them is a kilogram that doesn't need to be extracted from the earth. In countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Obtaining the lithium needed for the batteries cathode, uses copious amounts of water in some of the driest places on Earth. Other metals typically used in lithium ion batteries come with the usual impacts associated with mining. But there's a terrible dark side to one medal in particular- cobalt. By some estimates, more than 70% of the world's cobalt comes from one place, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Anybody there can just dig it up and sell it, which has led to armed conflict, unsafe mining practices and the use of child labor. Cutting back on the need for new cobalt can also reduce the human suffering mining it indirectly causes. Recycling batteries also keeps materials out of landfills, eliminating the chance that cobalt, nickel and manganese can contaminate the soil and groundwater. But despite these upsides, as of 2019, fewer than 5% of lithium ion batteries were recycled. That's partly because lithium ion battery recycling faces the same challenges that other recycling operations face, namely being cost competitive with virgin materials. In all the ways extracting lithium and mining cobalt is costly. It's often still cheaper than recycling in terms of dollars and cents. The issue is made even more complicated because of the nature of today's battery industry. There's no standard for how to make a lithium ion cell. Cathodes can be made up of LiCoO2, or LiNiMnCoO2, or LiNiCoAlO2, or LiFePO4. Because recyclers can't pick and choose which batteries come to their facilities, they often have to use one size fits all solutions. Often that means burning the batteries. Smelting lithium ion batteries recovers the most expensive metals, namely cobalt and nickel, as well as copper. However, lithium, aluminum and organic compounds get burned off, and recyclers have to deal with the toxic fluorine compounds the process creates. Another common recycling method, known as chemical leaching, involves grinding up the batteries and treating them with solvents to recover the cathode medals. Then there's the issue that lithium ion car batteries are not designed with recycling in mind. Lead acid batteries like those in internal combustion vehicles are easily disassembled, and almost all the lead in them can be recycled. But electric vehicle batteries are made of thousands of individual cells that are often glued or welded together with circuitry and sensors in between. Right now, electric vehicle manufacturers are more focused on performance and longevity, and the post lifecycle isn't given much attention. To make recycling easier, battery manufacturers may have to redesign their battery packs so they're more modular and easy to disassemble. Despite these inherent problems, some companies are charging ahead into battery recycling. They're developing new strategies like using robots to automate, sorting, disassembling and recovery of materials. Or they're experimenting with a technique called direct recovery, which keeps the cathodes crystalline structure intact and cuts down on the cost of reusing material. Even if these approaches make recycling batteries cost competitive, investing in lithium ion recycling programs could still be a risky bet. Lithium ion batteries may dominate the market now, but other technologies could take their place. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could become more common or a new battery technology like the long theorized lithium air, could make current batteries obsolete. Nobody knows what the future holds, but a few entrepreneurs and nations are seeing a veritable mountain of used batteries on the horizon, and they're determined to turn that trash into treasure. Lithium-ion batteries don't just power electric cars, but phones and laptops, too. To learn more about how these incredible cells actually worked and what may power the future, check out our light-speed playlist here. Thanks so much for watching.