Batteries: ’15 billion euro worth of precious metals in old smartphones’
Marc Grynberg, CEO of the Belgian technology group Umicore, world player in battery materials and recycling, launches the idea to offer 15 euro for trading in your written-off smartphone for recycling. He estimates precious metals like cobalt and lithium in old smartphones and tablets, that are just lying somewhere in a drawer at households worldwide, are worth some 15 billion euro.
Apparently the idea, proposed in an interview with economical newspaper, De Tijd, lives for some time already, as Umicore and technology federation, Agoria, together with phone and internet providers and manufacturers of smartphones are planning a large-scale collection campaign next year.
Two billion smartphones a year
Every year some 2 billion smartphones and tablets are sold worldwide. Only 2 to 3% is recycled today. Belgium is doing slightly better via its Recupel collection system for electronics with 5%. Grynberg is convinced we need to recycle more with the advent of the electric car in sight, boosting demand of battery metals beyond today’s mining capacity.
“Recuperating these metals isn’t a bad idea”, Patrick Van den Bossche, chief of the environmental branch of Agoria confirms in Gazet van Antwerpen. “An estimate of 28% of a smartphone is composed of precious metals, like copper, cobalt and lithium. In proportion to the battery of an electric car, a smartphone contains more cobalt for instance.”
Incite people to recycle
Grynsberg thinks society can’t take the liberty anymore not to recycle. He sees it as the government’s task to incite people to bring in their used electronics and batteries for recycling. “Today we’re already bringing our empty crate of beer back to the supermarket. Offering deposit money is one idea, but there are certainly other creative means imaginable.”
A good idea, but also a smart proposition from Grynberg’s point of view, Aviel Verbruggen, professor emeritus Energy and Environment of the Antwerp University, thinks. “He is lying the responsibility for the logistics – which are expensive and require lots of people – with the government. He’s not saying to the world: okay, go ahead, bring your old smartphone to Hoboken.”
In Hoboken (Antwerp), Umicore has the world’s largest recycling factory for precious metals. It refines 17 different metals from industrial and electronic scrap, like smartphones, computers and tablets. In 2020 Umicore is to decide where it is going to build extra battery recycling capacity.
Grynberg: “We want to be ready by 2025 to recycle the first stream of written-off batteries. This year 2 million electric cars are being sold, 60% more than last year. After that it will be 3 million and 5 million next, and the life cycle of a battery is on average ten to twelve years.”
22 billion dollar market
The market for the recycling of car batteries is estimated at 22 billion dollar by 2028. By 2035 Umicore expects having to recycle 10 to 15 million car batteries per year. Grynberg expects China and Europe to deliver the ‘mean stream’ of used batteries and wants the new recycling factory ‘close to the market’.
Although Hoboken has the experience and know-how, it isn’t obvious for Grynberg that this is the first option to expand. “Mobility and logistics are going to be very important. Large batteries aren’t easy to move from one continent to another, so investing in two locations seems to be logical”, Grynberg says.