A Circular Economy for Lithium-Ion Batteries Used in Mobile and Stationary Energy Storage: Drivers, Barriers, Enablers, and U.S. Policy Considerations

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


As large-format battery energy storage (BES) capacity increases in the United States, so will the volume of spent lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) (Bade 2019). Estimates based on a 10-year lifetime assumption found that the volume of LiBs that have reached the end of their utility for electric vehicle (EV) applications could total two million units (four million metric tons) annually by 2040 in the United States (Richa et al. 2014; Ai and Borucki 2018). Although there is currently no publicly available decommissioning or end-of-life (EoL) projection for stationary BES systems, the U.S. energy storage market is expected to grow from an annual deployment of 523 megawatts in 2013 to 7.3 gigawatts in 2025 (Wood MacKenzie and ESA 2020; Wesoff 2020). Despite potential secondary market opportunities and the potential benefits associated with the reuse/recovery of LiB material, anecdotal evidence suggests that in the United States most decommissioned LiBs from EVs are landfilled or otherwise disposed of (Steward et al. 2019; Salim et al. 2019; CPUC 2019; DTSC 2019d; NREL 2019b; Jacoby 2019; DOE 2019). The reuse of large-format LiBs is not at commercial scale and to date consists of only a handful of U.S.-led pilot projects. Similarly, less than 5% of LiBs from EVs are sent to recycling facilities in the United States (Steward et al. 2019; Jacoby 2019; America Made 2019; Patel 2017). As awareness of current practices grows, and the demand for critical LiB materials increases, U.S. industry stakeholders, regulators, and policymakers are starting to (1) consider solutions to drive and enable environmentally sustainable materials management decisions and behaviors and (2) identify barriers to a circular economy for LiBs (Figure 1). Circular economy principles (Figure 1) attempt to transition from a “take-make-consume-dispose” linear economic system to a circular system that allows for the long life, high performance, and the reuse/recovery of products and materials (Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2016). AWe begin this report by summarizing drivers, barriers, and enablers to a circular economy for LiBs used in mobile and stationary BES systems in the United States. We then report on our analysis of federal and state regulatory considerations that may impact the reuse/recovery and disposal of LiBs, and potential civil and criminal liabilities associated with noncompliance. We conclude by highlighting state policies and initiatives in the United States that expressly address reuse/recovery and disposal of large-format LiBs. Our results are based on legal and literature-based research and interviews with mobile and stationary BES industry stakeholders, regulators, and policymakers. While this report addresses stationary BES, as well as mobile BES, much of the information and experience with LiB decommissioning and EoL material management is derived from the increasing management of spent EV LiBs in the United States.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages68
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-77035


  • battery
  • battery energy storage
  • BES
  • circular economy
  • decommissioning
  • end-of-life
  • ESS
  • EVs
  • LiBs
  • lithium-ion batteries
  • policy
  • RCRA
  • recycling
  • regulation
  • reuse
  • secondary application
  • stationary battery energy storage
  • storage
  • United States


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