At beginning of July, at the University of Leicester, the Faraday Institution project on the recycling of lithium-ion batteries led by Professor Andy Abbott applied a new method, using ultrasonic waves, in order to separate valuable materials from electrodes, and later the materials can be fully recovered from batteries at the end of their life.
To recycle lithium-ion batteries, the methods currently used require high energy consumption and are sometimes inefficient. These involve tossing “dead” batteries into a high-temperature reactor or shredder. Next, a series of chemical and physical processes are required to produce functional materials.
This innovative approach takes apart the batteries, instead of shredding them. The process allows for around 80% of the original material to be recovered, and in a purer state. The technique, called ultrasonic delamination, separates the active material from the electrodes, leaving copper or aluminum. It effectively removes graphite and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides.
“This novel procedure is 100 times quicker and greener than conventional battery recycling techniques and leads to a higher purity of recovered materials.” According to Professor Abbott, leader of the research. “It essentially works in the same way as a dentist’s ultrasonic descaler, breaking down adhesive bonds between the coating layer and the substrate. It is likely that the initial use of this technology will feed recycled materials straight back into the battery production line. This is a real step change moment in battery recycling.”
Professor Pam Thomas, CEO of the Faraday Institution says, “For the full value of battery technologies to be captured for the UK, we must focus on the entire life cycle, from the mining of critical materials to battery manufacture to recycling, to create a circular economy that is both sustainable for the planet and profitable for industry.”
The researchers have been focused on the life cycle of the battery, to ensure that the environmental and economic benefits from electric vehicle (EV) batteries are fully achieved. The team is starting discussions with some battery producers and recycling companies to put a demonstrator in place by this year, and aiming to license the technology.