South Korea: Competition heats up for used EV batteries

The competition to enter the used battery business for electric vehicles is heating up among domestic and global car and battery makers, amid prospects that the market size would grow to 20 trillion won ($16.8 billion) in less than 10 years, data showed.

According to data from SNE Research, a consulting firm based in Korea, the global market size of used EV batteries is anticipated to surge to 20.2 trillion won by 2030, up by 1,124.24% compared to two years ago. By 2050, it might reach 600 trillion won, the data showed.

To gain a competitive edge in the new market, local car makers and energy companies as well as local battery makers are entering the battery business.

LG Group’s chemicals and battery units, LG Chem and LG Energy Solution have recently completed equity investment worth 60 billion won in Li-Cycle, a battery recycling firm based in the United States.

Li-Cycle owns technology to extract key raw materials by recycling used batteries.

Partnering up with Li-Cycle, LG Energy Solution decided to receive extracted nickel from the firm for 10 years starting from 2030.

SK Innovation, a battery maker that supplies electric car batteries to Hyundai Motor and Ford Motor, newly established a Battery Metal Recycle Division to accelerate its used battery business as a next-generation growth engine.

The battery maker has already developed an exquisite technology that can collect lithium hydroxide from cathode materials in used batteries and is awaiting commercialization of the technology.

Also, China’s CATL recently announced plans to build a 6 trillion won battery recycling unit.

Other market players such as Hyundai Motor Group, Korea’s top car maker, said in a sustainable development report that it will establish a system to retrieve used batteries within the country and expand it worldwide. Global car makers Tesla, Volkswagen and Daimler have shared such plans as well.

Korean conglomerate Posco and GS Group are making efforts to each expand their footprints in the used battery market for their energy businesses. Posco completed building a production line for extracting lithium from used batteries, while GS energy subsidiaries GS Futures and GS Energy made investments in the U.S.-based battery solution company.

Experts say the key reason behind the fierce competition is that the world is running out of lithium, a key raw material for electric vehicle batteries.

“With the current amount of global lithium reserves, we can only make one EV per person. So the companies are going all out to establish a three-step system to melt the used batteries, selectively extract lithium and examine the performance of the lithium,” said Choi Jae-won, a chemistry professor at Gyeongsang National University.