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What Do We Do With All Of Tesla's Lithium-Ion Batteries?

"In the case of lithium, we think in the long-term there will be a tidal wave of lithium disposal requirements, because lithium hasn’t really been around that long," Cotton says. "We think therein lies an opportunity to innovate further downstream and find ways to recycle."

That’s not happening yet for a few reasons, starting with the fact that despite all the headlines, there aren’t actually that many lithium-ion batteries in the world. Aqua Metals chairman and CEO Stephen Clarke explains.

“The reality is, we hear a lot about lithium-ion batteries but the sum total of lithium-ion batteries right now equates to less than 4 percent of global battery production," Clarke says. "Ninety-six percent of global battery production is lead acid.”

In addition to their low volume, Cotton says lithium-ion batteries also contain very little lithium, despite their name.

“You won’t be able to recycle more than 3 to 5 percent of a lithium battery because by weight that’s about all the lithium that’s in the battery,” he says.

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