Battery Storage Systems and Recycling

With the world slowly but surely transitioning towards clean energy, battery storage has emerged as the key enabler for the decarbonisation of the energy sector. 

Without battery storage, significant amounts of green energy generated from solar and wind can be lost. From utility-scale and residential to electric vehicles and other modes of transport, battery storage is relevant across a whole range of energy projects. It’s hard to understate its importance

Currently, we’re in a slight state of no-man’s-land. Since hitting the mainstream less than a decade ago, very few storage batteries have reached the end of their life. However, it won’t be long before a glut of domestic storage batteries will reach the end and need to be dealt with.

So, with all the new batteries that are now in the world, and soon to be in the world, what happens at the end of their lifespan? What do the recycling and reuse practices of storage batteries look like and how can you make sure you get rid of your battery sustainably when the time is right?  

Can storage batteries be recycled?

The short answer is yes, storage batteries can be recycled. This is true for lithium-ion batteries, which are the most common type of battery energy storage system

However, the current landscape of battery recycling isn’t the greatest with infrastructure severely lacking in the UK. And the new battery recycling facilities that are in the pipework seem to be focussing on batteries from electric vehicles. For this reason, spent lithium-ion batteries in the UK get shipped to Europe and Asia to be recycled. 

This is because the complex make-up of lithium-ion batteries means they require a specialised recycling process and facility. Inside each battery are materials such as cobalt, nickel, copper, graphite, aluminium, manganese and lithium, which need to be recovered from an environmental and hazardous point of view. 

Extracting these materials though is both challenging and costly. In fact, it’s thought that recycling lithium-ion batteries isn’t particularly economically viable, meaning companies are reluctant to invest in the technology. This is unlike the recycling of lead-acid batteries, which is cost-effective and has been happening for many decades. 

Despite the difficulties, ongoing research and investment in battery recycling technologies and infrastructure is happening in the UK. For example, there are cutting edge battery recycling facilities currently in construction in London and the West Midlands.

Why is it important to recycle battery storage systems?

According to the Faraday Institution, large amounts of lithium-ion batteries will be available for recycling from around 2028. 

Currently, the system in the UK isn’t set-up to recycle any significant numbers of lithium batteries. This needs to change quickly otherwise there’s going to be a plastic-scale waste problem on our hands. 

Recycling storage batteries makes sense and comes with two main benefits:

  • Environmental
  • Economic


From an environmental perspective, lithium-ion batteries are classed as ‘dangerous goods’. They need to be disposed of properly, otherwise they pose a risk of leaking toxic materials into the environment. Recycling storage batteries helps to reduce waste and prevents the build up of unnatural levels of hazardous materials in landfills. 

The recycling of storage batteries allows valuable materials – like lithium, cobalt and nickel – to be recovered. Alongside copper, graphite, manganese and aluminium, these minerals make up around 90% of the economic value of a used battery.

It’s super important that we become efficient at recycling batteries. In the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, the demand for manganese, lithium, graphite and nickel increases at least sixfold by 2030, with cobalt more than tripling too. It’s thought you need around 28 tonnes of used batteries to produce 1 tonne of recycled lithium.

Recovering these materials means they can then be reused in the production of new products and batteries. This not only conserves natural resources but also reduces the need for more mining and mineral extraction, which is both environmentally damaging and energy-intensive. Even more, the mining of such metals and materials found in batteries tends to occur in geopolitically sensitive areas. Recycling batteries reduces this social impact.  

Recycling storage batteries still isn’t without its difficulties though. To be reused in batteries, lithium needs to be 99.5% pure. Standard recycling procedures often don’t hit this number. That’s not to say this figure won’t be reached in the future. European recycler Umicore says they can retrieve pure lithium, but the recovery does involve an extra process, which makes it more expensive.


Battery recycling has the potential to create new jobs and stimulate growth in the recycling industry. As the volume of battery recycling increases, there will be a growing need for skilled workers in the collection, sorting and material recovery processes. According to the government strategy, as many as 100,000 jobs could be created in the full UK battery supply chain by 2040.

This area is going to need regulatory support to really push the drive for battery recycling. In China, there’s regulation that holds manufacturers responsible for the recovery of batteries. For example, EV car manufacturers have to set up recycling channels and service outlets where old batteries can be collected, stored and transferred to recycling companies. 

The European Union has recently brought in regulations to set up mandatory minimum levels of recycled content in batteries that are sold within its borders. For example, by 2031 batteries must contain at least 16% cobalt, 6% lithium and 6% nickel, with these percentages set to increase further by 2036. This will apply to any UK business exporting battery products into the EU too. 

Ultimately, what we want here is a circular system of battery recycling and battery re-creation. If industry and governments can get this right, we’ll be creating secure, resilient and sustainable supply chains at the same time. 

How do battery storage systems get recycled?

Ok, so we know it’s important for storage batteries to get recycled from an environmental, economic and regulatory perspective, so how is this going to happen? 

The recycling process for battery storage systems involves several stages:

  • Collection – The first step in the recycling process is the collection and transportation of used batteries. As storage batteries are too big and heavy to put in your car, this will require a specialist service. You can take a read on how big storage batteries are here. The collected batteries need specialised containers to prevent accidents during transit.
  • Sorting and disassembly – Once the batteries arrive at the recycling facility, they’re grouped by type and size. Trained professionals then disassemble the batteries manually, being careful to remove any hazardous materials.
  • Material recovery – The next stage in the recycling process is material recovery. This is the technical part and usually involves a combination of mechanical processing and refining. Mechanical processing involves shredding the battery components to produce a powder-like substance called ‘black mass’, which contains a mixture of valuable minerals. Refining then uses chemical processes, such as pyrometallurgy or leaching, to separate and purify the individual minerals from the black mass.
  • Reuse – After material recovery, the extracted materials are either reused in the production of new batteries or sold for use in other industries. 

Despite the established recycling processes, there are several challenges associated with battery recycling. Although effective, these processes can be energy-intensive, complex and costly. 

With very little infrastructure ready to go in the UK for recycling lithium batteries, capacity needs to increase over the next few years in order to handle the volume of end-of-life batteries that will soon be hitting the market. We’re currently at a slightly strange point in that most lithium-ion batteries are still in operation. However, with an average battery lifespan of 10-15 years, it won’t be long till they require processing.

This will require significant investment and collaboration between the government, industry and universities to develop innovative and cost-effective recycling solutions.

How to recycle your storage battery

When it comes to recycling your storage battery currently, there are a limited number of go-to options available. 

The first port of call is to contact your battery manufacturer. From a producer responsibility perspective, manufacturers should be required to set up the proper handling and processing of their batteries once they reach the end of their lifespan. 

Some do this already. For example, Tesla has an in-house recycling programme for its lithium-ion batteries in the US to stop them going to landfill. In the UK and Europe where they don’t have their own recycling facilities, they’ve teamed up with external recycler Umicore to process batteries.

If your storage battery is not from a manufacturer with a dedicated recycling programme, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands and source a certified battery recycler who can collect it and take it away. Hopefully this will become easier as more battery recycling facilities come online in the UK.

Can storage batteries be reused?

Whilst recycling is an important aspect of managing end-of-life battery storage systems, in some cases it’s possible to reuse the battery first. This extends the batteries useful life in the first instance before it can then be recycled.

One way to extend the life of a battery storage system is through servicing and refurbishment. Battery manufacturers, such as Tesla, often offer servicing options for their battery packs, which can help to maintain their performance and longevity. 

A second option is available for lithium ion batteries, but this is for ones found in electric vehicles. It’s possible for EV batteries to be repurposed into stationary storage batteries, just like those found in homes. This is because residential storage batteries have a lower current demand than those found in EVs, meaning the second-life switch is possible. 

For example, batteries that still retain 80-85% of their original capacity can be collected and repurposed into new storage batteries. This is a fantastic way to offer a secondary purpose to lithium-ion batteries and make use of an existing resource, before heading for recycling. More often than not this is cost-effective and environmentally-effective. 

According to analysis by Melin, by 2025 it’s thought that 75% of used EV batteries will be reused in second-life applications, before being sent to recycling to recover all the valued components.

As we’ve seen, battery storage recycling and creation of more local infrastructure is going to be absolutely crucial over the next few years. This is because the demand for recycling battery storage is only going to increase.

By developing robust recycling infrastructure and practices, backed up by legislation, we can minimise the potential environmental impact of batteries being in landfill, conserve valuable resources and support the growth of the clean energy industry.

About the author 

Ben Hardman

Ben is a professional writer and the creator of sustainable living website
It's here where he helps people to reduce their environmental impact through simple, everyday choices. Away from the laptop, Ben loves spending time in the natural environment with his young family and Murphy the cocker spaniel.

First Class BSc Biology degree (environmental and climate change focus)
Six years of working and writing in the environmental sector, including two years working at an international sustainability consultancy
Written for Ethical Consumer magazine, My Mother Tree, Unsustainable Magazine, Happy Eco News, Emission Index,
Commented in The Independent, The Guardian, GreenMatch. Also featured on Radio 1's environmental special 'Minute of Me'

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