Efficient battery recycling method borrows technique pioneered by dentists
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A new method to recycle electric vehicle batteries has been developed that uses a technique that many will be familiar with from trips to the dentist.
Researchers at the University of Leicester found a way to use ultrasonic waves to separate out valuable materials from electrodes so that the materials can be fully recovered from batteries at the end of their life.
Current recycling methods for lithium-ion battery recycling typically feed end-of-life batteries into a shredder or high-temperature reactor using an inefficient, power-intensive set of physical and chemical processes to produce useable materials again.
But the researchers believe an alternative approach could be taken that sees end-of-life batteries being disassembled rather than shredded, offering the potential to recover more material in a purer state.
The disassembly of lithium-ion batteries has been shown to recover a high yield (around 80 per cent of the original material) in a purer state than was possible using shredded material.
Recyclers have struggled in the past to remove and separate critical materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt from used batteries in a fast, economical and environmentally-friendly way.
The team’s ultrasonic delamination technique effectively blasts the active materials required from the electrodes leaving virgin aluminium or copper. The process proved highly effective in removing graphite and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, commonly known as NMC.
Professor Andy Abbott, lead researcher on the Faraday Institution ReLib project, said: “This novel procedure is 100 times quicker and greener than conventional battery recycling techniques and leads to a higher purity of recovered materials.
“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, the UK's flagship battery research programme, said: “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 research team are in initial discussions with several battery manufacturers and recycling companies to place a technology demonstrator at an industrial site in 2021, with a longer-term aim to license the technology.
The researchers have further tested the technology on the four most common battery types and found that it performs with the same efficiency in each case.
In January, a firm unveiled a new type of battery for electric vehicles that can fully charge in just five minutes.
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