Recycling of Batteries: 70 % of Lithium Recovered

Recovering up to 70 % of lithium from battery waste without corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, and prior sorting of materials being required: achieved by a recycling method developed by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology – KIT/DE. The method combines mechanical processes with chemical reactions and enables inexpensive, energy-efficient, and environmentally compatible recycling of any type of lithium-ion batteries. 

Increasing use of these batteries eventually results in the need for economically and ecologically sustainable recycling methods. Presently, mainly nickel and cobalt, copper and aluminium, as well as steel are recovered from battery waste for reuse. Lithium recovery still is expensive and hardly profitable. Existing recovery methods mostly are of metallurgical character and consume a lot of energy and/or produce hazardous by-products. In contrast to this, mechanochemical approaches based on mechan­ical processes to induce chemical reactions promise to reach a higher yield and sustainability with a smaller expenditure. Such a method has now been developed by the Energy Storage Systems Department of KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials (IAM-ESS), the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU) established by KIT in cooperation with Ulm University, and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG. The method reaches a lithium recovery rate of up to 70 % without corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, and prior sorting of materials being required. 

First, the battery waste is ground. Then, this material reacts with aluminium to metallic composites with water-soluble lithium compounds. Lithium is recovered by dissolving these compounds in water and subsequent heating to make the water evaporate. As the mechanochemical reaction takes place at ambient temperature and pressure, the method is highly energy-efficient. 

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