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Capstone Presentation: An applied analysis of the recyclability of EV battery packs

Event Type
Evan Leon, MS Candidate
Center for Sustainable Systems
School for Environment and Sustainability
February 20, 202010:00am - 11:00am
Room 1006 Dana Building


Current lithium-ion battery (LiB) recycling infrastructure is limited for strategic metals such as lithium and cobalt, despite projections that millions of electric vehicles (EVs) will hit the road in the next decade. Governments have labeled lithium and cobalt as “strategic” due to their importance in emerging green technologies as well as “critical” due to the increased risk of supply disruption resulting from geographic supply concentration, low substitutability, and low end-of-life recycling rates (EOL-RR’s). This paper aims to assist stakeholders conceptualize EV battery packs as a source of strategic metals and to help improve EOL-RR’s for lithium and cobalt. Specifically, this paper demonstrates the value of EV battery packs as a source of metals compared to natural resources and outlines advantages and disadvantages of thermal and mechanical recycling processes in terms of energy consumption, variable costs and maximum recoverable metal value. Findings suggest that EV battery packs contain favorable concentrations – often 1 magnitude higher – of lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper compared to respective economic ores. Disassembling the EV battery pack to the cell level increases cobalt, lithium and nickel concentrations since they are part of the cathode active material. Between thermal and mechanical recycling processes, the key tradeoff is between process time and ability to recover lithium. Thermal recycling requires less processing time than mechanical recycling, resulting in lower variable costs per battery pack, but mechanical recycling yields a higher maximum recoverable metal value since lithium can be recovered along with cobalt, copper and nickel.


Evan is passionate about the sustainable development of natural resources used in technology. At the Center for Sustainable Systems, his research is focused on metal criticality, battery technology, and battery recycling for electric vehicles. His master’s thesis, An applied analysis of the recyclability of electric vehicle battery packs, is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the academic journal Resources, Conservation, and Recycling. Upon graduation, Evan will join the battery materials trading team at Traxys, a global commodity trader, where his team will invest in responsibly sourced battery material projects focused on lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.

While at the University of Michigan, Evan has worked extensively across the electric vehicle supply chain. Last summer, he evaluated transactions and trading strategies as an intern on Traxys’ battery materials trading team. During his first summer, Evan interned on General Motors’ battery cell engineering team where he devised material and manufacturing cost reduction strategies for upcoming electric vehicle programs. While a first-year graduate student, he served as an intern/co-op on the lithium resources and recycling team at Albemarle Corporation, a leading producer of lithium chemicals. Evan also served as a research assistant at the University of Michigan Energy Institute where he led the development of technoeconomic models for battery economics research.

He brings four years of corporate banking experience covering Latin American financial institutions. While working in banking, Evan served on teams that executed cross-border transactions and managed credit risk.

Evan graduated cum laude from Duke University with a B.A. in Spanish & Latin American Studies with highest distinction. He enjoys learning languages and about cultures around the world. He is fluent in English and Spanish.