Jodok Reinhardt, CEO and founder of Librec, a company that provides technology for “closed-loop” recycling of large lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) from e-mobility, discusses where we are currently and what developments are being made in this sector.
The world is facing an increasing demand for “closed-loop” battery recycling. Currently, battery manufacturing is skyrocketing and creating significant amounts of manufacturing scrap, defective test series and even some battery recalls. Given the valuable ingredients like Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Lithium, Aluminium, Graphite and Manganese, these volumes need to be recycled with maximum recovery rates of at least 90%. The current gap in recycling capacity in Europe is estimated at about 100,000 tonnes per year and at more than 300,000 tonnes by 2025. Additionally, by 2025 there will be about 150,000 tonnes of end-of-life batteries, and this figure will grow rapidly thereafter.
How can this be organised to be most cost and environmentally efficient?
Transportation of spent LIBs comes with some risk, therefore, there are added costs for safety measures. Clearly, it is not cost and environmentally efficient to transport end-of-life batteries over long distances. Analysis shows that a recycling centre in the middle of a circle of about 600km diameter allows for lowest cost collection and recycling per kg. It is also important that the recycling centre provides all services in the same location to avoid any further battery transportation. Such services are testing the re-use of batteries in ‘second life’-applications, as well as repair, discharge, dismantling and “closed-loop” recycling. Combined with maximum volume bundling from all car manufacturers and full recovery of all battery components, this setup allows for the operation to be 40% cheaper than any other system.
Can batteries be recycled at 90% recovery rates or higher?
Yes. For example, accessible LithoRec technology, developed in Germany and first commercialised at Duesenfeld GmbH, allows for maximum recovery. Batteries are discharged, dismantled to modules, and then shredded under vacuum and inert gas atmosphere. The electrolyte is evaporated and recovered at low pressure and low temperatures and the remaining fractions are separated with sieves, filters, magnets etc. Finally, the cathode and anode foils need to be delaminated either mechanically or by evaporating the binder, and the graphite is separated by magnets or froth flotation. All fractions are recovered at more than 90%. As the process is performed in batches, raw materials can easily be allocated and returned to the respective car or battery manufacturer.
How is the recycling market developing?
Given the current cost of raw materials, car manufacturers and importers want to keep an eye on ‘their’ batteries. To recycle manufacturing scrap, recycling facilities in or next to the manufacturing make most sense. While for collection and recycling of spent LIBs, the above presented “spoke-and-hub” set-up is most efficient. It is called “spoke-and-hub” because the regional recycling centres (appr. 600km diameter) collect and recycle batteries in their region (= spoke), and produce valuable black mass with Cobalt, Nickel, Lithium, Copper, etc. that can safely and efficiently be transported to a hub for hydrometallurgical processing and preparation of precursors for new battery production. All of Europe’s OEMs are responsible by law to collect and dispose of the batteries. These services are provided on behalf of the OEMs and ultimately financed by the consumer who buys an electric car. Swiss Librec AG reaches more than 90% recovery and is preparing for a first series of six recycling centres in Europe.
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