The scientific journal ACS Energy Letters estimates that the annual production volume of lithium batteries will exceed one million tons by 2025. In a world struggling with a worsening deficit of non-ferrous metals, reconsidering battery recycling is becoming increasingly urgent. Several industries that depend on non-ferrous metals are facing a shortage which is likely to get worse shortly. As cities continue to grow at a tremendous rate and as regulations become stricter regarding extraction, the pressure of finding sustainable solutions increases. For instance, Ascend Elements is a start-up from Massachusetts that produces advanced materials using elements recovered from waste lithium-ion batteries. Indeed, recycling often requires less energy than primary metal production, significantly reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Nevertheless, the traditional way of dealing with end-of-life batteries is mostly limited to disposal or recycling processes aimed at recovering valuable metals such as aluminium, copper, lithium, zinc, cobalt, and nickel. But there is another side that often goes unnoticed – the potential lying within the secondary materials that open the door to new applications. This article looks at the full potential of recycled battery waste for construction, which can greatly contribute to a more sustainable future.

Non-Ferrous Metals

Though ferrous metals are more preferred and cost-friendly for construction, and engineering purposes than nonferrous ones it is impossible to do away with them completely. The non-ferrous metals shortage requires a comprehensive approach. It can be reduced by looking for lightweight and non-metallic replacements as well as discovering new alloys and composite materials. However, more operational solutions may be required, and using recycled batteries may also appear as an interesting alternative. By using this resource, we can relieve pressure on conventional metal sources.

Metals derived from recycled batteries could be successfully implemented for some meaningful construction and engineering needs, such as:

Energy Storage. The batteries, especially those with a residual usable capacity can be used for energy storage in buildings. They can hold surplus renewable energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines and supply electricity when generation is low, demand high. The utilization of recycled batteries in a building’s energy storage system can improve the efficiency with which they are used, reduce overdependence on the national grid and ensure better overall energy performance.

Emergency Power Backup. Recycled batteries can be used as alternative sources of power to buildings, especially during emergencies or in areas where the supply of electricity is unreliable. They can be charged during normal grid operation and through renewable energy sources, thus creating a constant supply of power even in the event of blackouts to ensure building resilience.

The Electrical, Piping, Plumbing Cooling and Heating Systems. Copper from recycled batteries has excellent electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance, making it suitable for efficient power distribution applications. Copper also offers durability and can withstand high temperatures.

Structural Components. Aluminum is a must in building skyscrapers for its unique properties and adaptability. High-rise structures require materials that are not only strong and durable but also lightweight and corrosion-resistant. Aluminum perfectly fits these requirements, and it has a high strength-to-weight ratio. This characteristic is particularly advantageous in skyscrapers, where reducing weight can lead to cost savings and construction efficiencies. In addition, aluminum has superior formability making it easy to shape and fabricate into different structural elements such as beams columns and reinforcements. Aluminum recycling can lower the need for virgin materials and decrease energy consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions from primary aluminum production.

Other Components

If we consider other elements of waste batteries, they are not less convincing than non-ferrous metals, but they are often overlooked. Researchers from the School of Industrial Design & Architectural Engineering and the School of Energy, Materials & Chemical Engineering at Korea University of Technology & Education found that spent graphite from end-of-life lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) is a promising nanoadditive to boost road pavement performance. A group of scientists from Zagazig University has discovered that the use of slag produced during recycling spent lead batteries is an appropriate concrete aggregate. Such additives can improve the material’s properties, increasing strength, electrical conductivity, and corrosion resistance.

There is still plenty of ground to cover in boosting recycling rates, refining collection systems, and advancing sustainable technology to tackle the surging number of batteries in circulation. However, it can help curtail the environmental footprint pushing us towards more sustainable practices.

Claire Preece