Life cycle assessment (LCA) quantifies the whole-life environmental impacts of products and is essential for helping policymakers and manufacturers transition toward sustainable practices. However, typical LCA estimates future recycling benefits as if it happens today. For long-lived products such as lithium-ion batteries, this may be misleading since there is a considerable time gap between production and recycling. To explore this temporal mismatch problem, we apply future electricity scenarios from an integrated assessment model—IMAGE—using “premise” in Brightway2 to conduct a prospective LCA (pLCA) on the global warming potential of six battery chemistries and four recycling routes. We find that by 2050, electricity decarbonization under an RCP2.6 scenario mitigates production impacts by 57%, so to reach zero-carbon batteries it is important to decarbonize upstream heat, fuels, and direct emissions. For the best battery recycling case, data for 2020 gives a net recycling benefit of −22 kg CO2e kWh−1 which reduces the net impact of production and recycling from 71 to 49 kg CO2e kWh−1. However, for recycling in 2040 with decarbonized electricity, net recycling benefits would be nearly 75% lower (−6 kg CO2e kWh−1), giving a net impact of 65 kg CO2e kWh−1. This is because materials recycled in the future substitute lower-impact processes due to expected electricity decarbonization. Hence, more focus should be placed on mitigating production impacts today instead of relying on future recycling. These findings demonstrate the importance of pLCA in tackling problems such as temporal mismatch that are difficult to capture in typical LCA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1291-1303
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding information
EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (AAPS), Grant/ Award Number: EP/S023364/1; UK Energy Research Centre Phase 4 research programme (EPSRC), Grant/Award Number: EP/S029575/1

Data Availability Statement

The data that supports the findings of this study are available in the supporting information of this article.


Dive into the research topics of 'Are future recycling benefits misleading? Prospective life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this