China has ramped up their search for cobalt and lithium used in electric vehicles, which has dramatically pushed up prices and created shortages of these crucial metals, according to Reuters. South Korea is therefore mining electronic waste.
A South Korean factory is sorting through lithium-ion batteries from used mobile phones and laptops. These recycled materials provide a gateway to sought-after metals used in the batteries that power electric cars.
SungEel HiTech is South Korea’s largest battery recycler and is part of the supply chain for battery makers such as Samsung SDI and LG Chem.
Yi Kang-myung, SungEel HiTech’s president, said he has boosted capacity by threefold this year because of the shortage of mined metals. His company has the capacity to process 8,000 tonnes per year of spent lithium-ion batteries and metal scraps.
At SungEel HiTech, the process begins with workers taking out the batteries from recycled devices which are drained of power and then ground into a powder. This powder is then separated into individual metals.
The recycling companies extract metals like gold and silver, but a few companies, including SungEel HiTech can recover cobalt and produce powders that rare metals are extracted.
To endorse recycling, South Korea recently changed its regulations and started charging more for waste disposal. Yum Un-joo, chairman of Korea Urban Mining Association said recycled resources could be the modification this industry and country needs.
Battery recyclers, like SungEel HiTech, hope to increase processing capacity to 24,000 tonnes by 2019, Yi said. Currently, about 150 companies have jumped on the bandwagon of urban mining.