Recycling and regeneration of lithium batteries

Under the pursuit of economic and environmental protection, the production and demand of lithium batteries have grown in recent years. Decommissioned lithium batteries are known as high-grade mines, coupled with the price and mining of raw materials, so the recycling value is obvious. This article also mentions some recycling processes and cases of companies specialized in this industry.

The global demand and the proportion will both rise

Benefiting from the global trend of energy conservation and emission reduction and the EU carbon emission agreement, the global lithium electricity market has entered a period of rapid demand development after 2018. According to Deloitte data, from 2017 to 2020, the global demand for lithium-ion batteries continued to rise, and the annual compound group growth rate reached 22.17%, of which the power battery installed capacity accounted for nearly 18 percentage points increased. In 2020, the global demand for Li-ion batteries reached 279GWh, while power batteries reached 54.5%.

It is expected that as the global penetration rate of electric vehicles will continue to improve, the compound annual growth rate of 34.4% from 2021-2025 will be 34.4%, and in 2025, the overall global demand for lithium battery will reach 1223GWh, power battery accounts for 75.2%.

In other words, the global demand for lithium batteries and the proportion of power batteries will both rise steadily.

Figure 1. Global Li-ion demand (installed) and forecast (in∶GWh, %) for ∶ 2017-2025

Global Li-ion demand (installed) and forecast (in∶GWh, %) for ∶ 2017-2025
Source: Deloitte Forward looking Industry Research Institute collation @ Forward-looking economist, APP

Raw material prices of lithium batteries are high

The raw materials of lithium battery mainly positive and negative materials, electrolyte, diaphragm and fluid, etc. . Among them, cathode materials are the most critical raw material for lithium batteries, including lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide. Since 2020, the factory price of battery grade lithium carbonate has increased from the minimum of $6502 to $27093 each ton or more; the market transaction price of lithium hydroxide has increased from the minimum of $6657/ton to between $26319-27867/ton. (according to the China’s website in November 2021)

High-grade metal mine

Figure 2. Lithium battery components

What are contained in Li-ion batteries?
Source: the picture from website

Li-ion battery (LIB) contains a lot of Co, Li, Mn, and other valuable metals, so it can be said that spent LIB is a high-grade metal mine. Lithium hexafluorophosphate is easy to decompose and catabolite bind to steam to form hydrofluoric acid. At the same time, organic electrolytes are easily decomposed into formaldehyde and harmful gases such as ketones, which seriously threaten people’s health. From the perspective of resource recycling and environmental protection, the recycling of waste lithium-ion batteries is of great significance.

As the popularity of electric vehicles starts to grow explosively, so does the pile of spent lithium-ion batteries that once powered those cars. Reasonable disposal of retired lithium batteries can promote the development of renewable and sustainable energy. The methods of separating electrode material from aluminum foil and copper foil are highlighted here.

Methods introduction

1 ) Method of separating collecting fluid and electrode materials

Figure 3. Process of recovering positive electrode materials using DMF

Process of recovering positive electrode materials using DMF
Source: the picture from website Electrochemical person

2 ) Separation of foil of aluminum/copper from electrode material by heating

Figure 4. Experimental apparatus for releasing the electrode material by incineration and shock

Experimental apparatus for releasing the electrode material by incineration and shock
Source: the picture from website called Electrochemical person

Figure 5. Flow chart of the method for separating cathode material and complete aluminum foil using low-temperature molten salt

Flow chart of the method for separating cathode material and complete aluminum foil using low temperature molten salt
Source: the picture from website called Electrochemical person

3 ) Separation aluminum/copper foil from electrode material by mechanical method

Market dynamics of lithium-ion battery recycling and regeneration

Redwood Materials

Redwood Materials is a joint venture founded by Tesla co-founder JB Strawbel. Since 2017, the company has established two plants that currently handle all abandoned and defective batteries from the nearby Panasonic and Tesla plants. The Redwood Materials can recycle 95% to 98% of nickel, cobalt, aluminum, graphite, and over 80% of lithium in the batteries. Most of these materials were sold back to Panasonic to make new Tesla batteries. Recently, Strawbel partnered with Amazon to handle batteries from the retail giant.

Primobius GmbH

In August 2020, Australian Neometals signed an agreement with German metallurgical equipment supplier SMS Group GmbH to establish a joint venture to recover lithium-ion batteries. The joint venture, called Primobius GmbH, will use Neometals recycling technology to recycle lithium, nickel, cobalt and other materials from waste electric vehicles and consumer electronics.

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