How do car battery is currently getting recycled and new recycling players Redwood, Li-Cycle and more

December 9, 2020 frankbatterino 0 Comments

Global lithium-ion production capacity has increased tenfold over the past decade to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles 

Panasonic, one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers, is sending its defective cells to China for testing. 

The dirty secret of the electric car revolution is that it has created a time bomb, and cracking lithium-ion recycling is the only way to defuse it. The International Energy Agency predicts that the number of electric vehicles packed with thousands of cells will increase by 800% over the next decade. We have only just reached the first wave of vehicle production, but it marks the beginning of a tsunami of used batteries that will only get worse as more electric cars hit the roads.

The problem is well known to most of us and, after all, we all have a significant role to play in creating this institution.

Straubel was CTO at Tesla since employees could be counted on one hand. During its time there, it grew from a scrappy sports car launch to the world’s most valuable automaker. Along the way, Tesla has also become one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers. In his view, batteries are the problem, and he is a co-founder of both.

The greatest opportunity is to use the materials for reuse and recycling, he says, and there is an ecosystem of recycling that will eventually build up. Given that batteries are in circulation, it seems only obvious that there is a need for more efficient use of lithium-ion batteries, but what about the other batteries?

Pyrometallurgy Recycling Technique

The most common technique, pyrometallurgy, is to burn them to remove unwanted organic materials such as plastics, as well as waste materials such as metals and other toxic substances.

A common pyro method, called smelting, uses fossil-fuel-powered furnaces that are not good for the environment and lose a lot of aluminium and lithium, but it is simple and leaves only the spent cells of the battery, not the metal itself. In the US, a small proportion of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, and the smells that exist at present to process the ore from mining are already able to process the batteries.

Hydrometallurgy Recycling Technique

The other approach is called hydrometallurgy and will allow more material, including lithium, to be recovered, but it has its own challenges. A common form of the technique, leaching, consists of impregnating lithium-ion cells with a strong acid to dissolve the metal in solution.

Recyclers need to pre-process the cells to remove unwanted plastic casings and reduce battery charge, increasing costs and complexity. It is often many times cheaper to extract new material, especially lithium, from leach than to extract it from leach, and therefore lithium-ion batteries have been treated as waste since the first commercial cells were introduced in the early 1990s. 

Redwood Recycling Company

Redwood uses a combination of pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy to extract valuable material.

Instead of burning the material with fossil fuels or a conventional melting process, Redwood uses a conversion process driven by a combination of hydrofluorocarbons, a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and oxygen. 

What remains is a hydrometallurgical process in which the metal alloys are filtered to recover individual compounds. By the time the batteries have passed through Redwood’s recycling plant, they are already so broken that they can reintegrate into the battery manufacturing process. Straubel declined to comment on details of the company’s recovery technology but claims that up to 90 per cent of lithium-ion batteries can be recovered. We will build an ecosystem for battery reprocessing, “Straubels said, looking optimistically to the future.

The decomposition of metal atoms inherent in the decaying metal atom is capable of reusing the material almost infinitely, he said.

Li-Cycle

Some people at the top of the battery recycling industry expect that the creation of special plants will improve the profitability of the industry. Batteries are considered a waste, but they are trying to turn this on its head by pooling their resources. Li-Cycle, a Canadian battery recycler, said it is focusing on tailored processes for lithium-ion batteries as it begins to see higher volumes. The challenges in lithium-ion recycling range from the fact that the plants and processes are not specifically designed to boil batteries, to the plant process itself.

Li-Cycle takes a different approach to recycling than Redwood and describes its process as a combination of two steps: first, the batteries are thrown into a vat, which simultaneously discharges and crushes them. The cells then pass through a staged chemical bath and unlock the metals trapped in it. It then completely dispenses with melting the process and refines the battery by leaching alone.

There is no significant amount of waste, says Johnston: “We don’t produce significant amounts of air, we don’t produce wastewater. Our footprint is very small and everything happens at low temperatures, so we do not produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gases.

The most important innovation of the Li cycle is probably not its lithium-ion battery technology, but its manufacturing process. The Li cycle uses a modular factory that turns cells into black matter. Each spoke feeds inert material to a central hub where it is refined into useful battery-powered chemicals. Today, the company operates spokes in Ontario and Rochester and has just received approval to open a second factory in the US state of New Jersey, the first of its kind. Their system bypasses lithium-ion recycling, which simply takes the waste where it belongs.

Direct recovery

The end product is a battery – ready material, but it requires a lot of processing before it is ready to return to the cells. The government classifies batteries as Class 9 hazardous material, meaning they are subject to strict and expensive transportation restrictions to reduce the risk of fires and explosions while driving. 

Melting and bleaching may not be good for you, but one of the fastest ways to meet the fast-growing challenge of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

The cathode of a battery is nanotechnically designed to increase performance. Battery experts are therefore working on a process called direct recovery that would store the cathode material without destroying its crystalline nanostructure. This would drastically reduce the cost of reusing the material and also reduce the damage to the battery.

Argonne National Laboratory

In 2019, the Department of Energy commissioned Argonne National Laboratory to operate its ReCell Center, which is focused on improving lithium-ion recycling techniques, with direct recycling a key element of that goal. Scientists at the center have discovered a direct recycling process that will demonstrate the potential of this approach. 

We are still at the beginning with Recell, but the table shows that the method will be economical to some extent. In the past, battery materials were recovered using many techniques, but not directly from the cathode.

How do car battery is currently getting recycled and new recycling players Redwood, Li-Cycle and more was last modified: December 9th, 2020 by frankbatterino

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