Battery recycling: 70 percent of the lithium recovered

March 28th, 2023

Researchers from the HIU and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have developed an inexpensive and environmentally friendly recycling process for lithium. Her publication recently appeared in “Nature Communications Chemistry”. Recovering up to 70 percent of the lithium from battery waste without the need for corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, or prior sorting of the materials: This enables a recycling process developed at KIT that combines mechanical processes and chemical reactions. The method allows a wide variety of lithium-ion batteries to be recycled in a cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly manner.

Lithium-ion batteries permeate our everyday life: They not only supply notebooks and smartphones, toys, remote controls and other small devices with wireless power, but also act as the most important energy store for the rapidly growing electromobility. The increasing use of these batteries calls for economically and ecologically sustainable recycling methods. Today, mainly nickel and cobalt, copper and aluminum as well as steel are recovered and recycled from battery waste. The recovery of lithium is currently still expensive and not very profitable. The available, mostly metallurgical processes consume a lot of energy and/or leave behind harmful by-products. In contrast, approaches in mechanochemistry that use mechanical processes to bring about chemical reactions promise higher yields with less effort and greater sustainability. 

Suitable for different cathode materials

The Institute for Applied Materials – Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) of the KIT has now developed such a method together with the developed by KIT in cooperation with the University of Ulm and the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU) and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG. The researchers present their method in the journal Nature Communications Chemistry. You can achieve a recovery rate of up to 70 percent for the lithium without the need for corrosive chemicals, high temperatures or prior sorting of the materials. “The process is suitable for recovering lithium from cathode materials with different chemical compositions and is therefore suitable for many different commercially available lithium-ion batteries,” explains Dr. Oleksandr Dolotko from the IAM-ESS of the KIT and from the HIU, main author of the publication. “It allows for cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly recycling.”

Reaction takes place at room temperature

For their process, the researchers use aluminum as a reducing agent in the mechanochemical reaction. Since aluminum is already contained in the cathode, the process does not require any additional substances. How it works: The battery waste is first ground up. Then they are used in a reaction with aluminum to create metallic composites with water-soluble lithium compounds. The lithium is then recovered by dissolving the water-soluble compounds in water and then heating to remove the water through evaporation. Since the mechanochemical reaction takes place at ambient temperature and pressure, the process is particularly energy-efficient. Another advantage is the simple process, which will facilitate use on an industrial scale. Because in the near future, large quantities of batteries will have to be recycled.

Original publication (Open Access) 

Oleksandr Dolotko, Niclas Gehrke, Triantafillia Malliaridou, Raphael Sieweck, Laura Herrmann, Bettina Hunzinger, Michael Knapp & Helmut Ehrenberg: Universal and efficient extraction of lithium for lithium-ion battery recycling using mechanochemistry. Communications Chemistry, 2023.

Further information:

Details of KIT Energy Center:

As “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for society and the environment. The aim is to make significant contributions to global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility and information. Around 9,800 employees work together on a broad disciplinary basis in natural sciences, engineering, economics, humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,300 students for responsible tasks in society, business, and science through research-oriented university studies. The innovation activity at KIT bridges the gap between knowledge and application for social benefit, economic prosperity and the preservation of our natural foundations of life. The KIT is one of the German Universities of Excellence.

Photos: Amadeus Bramsiepe, KIT.

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