Recycle Australia at all

Recycle critical raw materials from lithium-ion batteries

The increasing demand for large lithium-ion batteries for the transport and energy sectors leads to a very rapidly increasing demand for raw materials. Some are classified as critical by the European Union, such as cobalt, lithium and natural graphite. However, the recycling processes available today have only recovered some metals so far. Lithium is not recycled at all. In order to avoid bottlenecks and price risks in the raw material supply in the future, the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) is examining in the new RecycleMat project how battery electrodes can be reconditioned so that materials can be recovered as completely as possible and directly as raw materials for the production of new electrode masses can be used. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor and Housing is funding the study for two years. Minister of Economic Affairs Dr. On August 19, 2020, Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut presented the ZSW with the funding decision for 870,000 euros.

“High-quality recycling is a key competence for the industrial location Baden-Württemberg. In the future, sustainable and competitive value chains must also take into account the optimal recycling of products at the end of the usage phase. When it comes to recycling batteries, we are taking an important step in the right direction with the RecycleMat project, ”said Economics Minister Hoffmeister-Kraut.

"The future need for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and for short-term green electricity storage will be enormous," emphasizes Dr. Margret Wohlfahrt-Mehrens, acting head of battery research at the ZSW in Ulm. "The development of a recycling concept with which raw materials in used batteries are recovered as completely as possible can lead to a sustainable supply of raw materials and significantly reduce the material and energy requirements for new cells."

Recycling battery raw materials reduces dependencies

Transition metal layer oxides, which contain more than 10 percent cobalt, are currently used as cathode material. In many cases, cobalt is mined under less than optimal working and environmental conditions. For example in the Congo, where around half of the world's supplies are located. Large parts of the lithium deposits, around 75 percent, are in South America. These materials and natural graphite for the anodes of the cells are classified in Germany as critical raw materials with high delivery and price risks. By recovering the electrode materials from used batteries, so-called end-of-life cells, the dependency of domestic cell manufacturers on international raw material chains can be reduced.

There are different processes and system concepts for recycling valuable materials from lithium batteries. The state of the art for large-scale processes is the melting down of complete batteries or cells with subsequent complex processing of the melt and slag products. Recycling companies use these processes commercially. However, the high-temperature processes lead to losses of valuable metals such as cobalt, nickel and copper due to the formation of slag. Components such as lithium, manganese or aluminum are also not recovered. A number of alternative processes that run over several high-temperature processes or are coupled with hydrometallurgical processes only provide a relatively low yield of valuable materials.

Also recycle lithium

The planned feasibility study "Cathode and anode materials from recycled lithium-ion batteries (RecycleMat)" is intended to describe a more efficient recycling process that also recycles lithium, nickel, cobalt and natural graphite from discarded battery electrodes. With the project, the scientists at the ZSW in Ulm are investigating how components can be extracted from old batteries and how the electrode material can be processed in such a way that it can be reused directly in new lithium-ion batteries or as an intermediate product for battery material synthesis. For this purpose, the components should be mechanically separated and cleaned from used batteries or from production waste during cell production, and the active materials should be thermochemically treated with little energy.

With the material and process data obtained, a reliable basis for re-syntheses of the materials is to be created. Developing products are to be evaluated directly with industrial partners. Due to the expertise available at ZSW both in battery material development and in the production of lithium-ion cells from pilot to near-series scale, the specification profiles as well as requirements for material and processing are known.

The Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) is one of the leading institutes for applied research in the fields of photovoltaics, regenerative fuels, battery technology and fuel cells as well as energy system analysis. Around 280 scientists, engineers and technicians are currently employed at the three ZSW locations in Stuttgart, Ulm and Widderstall. There are also 100 academic and student assistants.
The ZSW is a member of the Innovation Alliance Baden-Württemberg (innBW), an association of 13 non-university, business-related research institutes.

Contact person for press work

Tiziana Bosa, Center for Solar Energy and
Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW), Helmholtzstr. 8th,
89081 Ulm, Tel .: +49 731 9530-601,
[email protected],