Litiumjonbatterier används bland annat i elbilar

4.7 million kronor for research in battery recycling

16 January, 2017

The Swedish Energy Agency has granted Swerea MEFOS 4.7 million kronor for the project Re-LiOn for recycling of lithium-ion batteries. The aim is to demonstrate that the batteries can be recycled in a circular system to reduce environmental impact and extraction of virgin raw materials.

Manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries is largely based on virgin raw materials, which requires considerable energy input and gives rise to significant CO2 emissions. In a future with dramatically increased use of batteries, for example, in electric vehicles, effective recycling is an absolute must.

In recycling, the most energy-demanding steps will be metallurgical processes. Large-scale production makes the metallurgical industry very efficient, while the different stages of battery recycling require specific processes for small volumes. An underlying concept is to utilize existing, often large-scale, industrial facilities with excellent conditions for efficient production.

"We will investigate and assess process chains where suitable intermediate products from recycling can be handled as early as possible by energy-efficient, large-scale industrial facilities. The methods will be adapted to Nordic conditions and will take advantage of a modern metallurgical industry," says Guozhu Ye, project manager.

The system must be able to handle cobalt, copper, aluminium, lithium oxide, manganese and nickel, which presents the possibility of an overall recovery rate of more than 80 percent. It is also important to determine the degree to which the recycling methods are viable in terms of energy, environment, strategy and economy.

"Our ambition is also to gather experience from Sweden's unique, well-functioning system for recovery of, for example, alkaline batteries and transfer it to a system for lithium-ion batteries, thereby giving the industry a lead time-wise in relation to other countries," adds Guozhu Ye.

The work will be conducted in the form of literature studies, LCA studies, thermodynamic calculations, lab-scale and pilot-scale development, and industrial-scale trials. The project will cover the entire value chain from recovery to new raw materials. (Energy savings as a result of the project are estimated at 78 GWh per year by 2030.)

The project group is led by Swerea MEFOS and also includes IsoLogistics and Swerea IVF. Kunming University (China) has a very good knowledge of these issues and will contribute expertise in this area. The three-year project began on 1 January 2017.

Facts − lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable. The cathode consists of aluminium covered with some type of lithium oxide and includes other metals such as manganese, cobalt and nickel. The anode consists of copper with a layer of graphite, while the electrolyte is lithium fluoride or lithium chloride in an organic compound. Owing to increased use of mobile electronic devices and electric vehicles, a dramatic increase in the use of this battery type is foreseen.

Materials account for 55-75% of the manufacturing cost for lithium-ion batteries. Compared to other battery types the recovery quotient is low, which is due to the fact that these battery systems are relatively new and electric vehicles have not yet reached their end-of-life stage. There is currently no complete recycling of lithium-ion batteries in the Nordic region.