Lithium batteries recycling, practicing green ecology

In today’s era of rapid technological advancement, lithium batteries, as an important power source in electric vehicles, smart devices and other fields, are gradually becoming an indispensable part of our lives. However, with the widespread use of batteries, the impact on the environment has attracted increasing attention. How to deal with used lithium batteries has become an environmental problem that needs to be solved urgently. Behind this problem, lithium battery recycling is becoming a key part of promoting green and sustainable development.

Recycle lithium batteries and practice green ecology

Before delving into whether (and how) lithium batteries can be recycled, it’s worth stating that lithium batteries should be recycled.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Recycled lithium-ion batteries contain valuable key minerals needed to produce new batteries. Clean energy technologies such as renewable energy storage systems and electric vehicle batteries will require large quantities of these minerals, and recycling used lithium-ion batteries can help meet this need.

However, the process of recycling lithium batteries is notorious for being complex and costly. It requires specialized recycling facilities to process the lithium, so you can’t bring any old lithium-ion batteries to your local recycling center

With electric vehicle sales expected to grow by 35% in 2023, the demand for lithium batteries will continue to grow. But other vehicles and systems, such as golf carts, boats, and even solar installations, can benefit from lighter-weight lithium batteries.


Are lithium batteries recyclable?

Yes, lithium and lithium-ion batteries are recyclable. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, lithium batteries are not rechargeable, whereas lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, and currently only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled globally. On the other hand, the International Battery Council has found that lead batteries are recycled at a rate of 99%.

So what’s going on? The low recycling rates for lithium and lithium-ion batteries can be attributed to several major challenges.


Process Complexity. The process is both sensitive and difficult, as lithium is highly reactive and must be handled with care.

Cost. Recycling Li-ion batteries allows for the recovery of expensive materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, but the cost of the process is currently higher than the cost of mining the raw materials.


Can the material lithium be recycled?

Lithium is a lightweight metal that can be completely and infinitely recycled. It can be recycled time and time again. The problem today is that recycling lithium can be much more expensive than extracting it through brine mining.

However, scientists are working to find more cost-effective recycling methods. For example, Princeton NuEnergy a startup uses low-temperature plasma to clean the cathode material in batteries and separate the cathode from the anode to recycle the material.

In recent years, lithium batteries have started catastrophic fires in the U.S., U.K., France and…


How are lithium-ion batteries recycled?

When lithium-ion batteries cannot be reconditioned or reused, they can continue to be recycled

Of course, due to the highly reactive nature of lithium, recycling requires many steps and extra safety precautions. But recycling also requires a lot of energy and often a lot of water to accomplish, which can be costly and difficult to scale up sustainably. While scientists are seeking to greatly minimize the environmental impact and cost of recycling lithium-ion batteries, recycling currently goes through the following steps.

Discharge. Before a battery can be recycled, it needs to be fully discharged to minimize the risk of fire.

Shredding. The next step in recycling lithium-ion batteries is to shred the batteries, which involves using a large metal blade to cut the batteries into smaller pieces. From there, the remaining “black matter” from the battery fragments is melted or dissolved for material recovery.


Melting. The melting process or pyrokinetic involves applying high temperatures to the ferrous material to recover cobalt and nickel. However, this system is not as effective at capturing other materials (especially lithium), so the remains must undergo additional processing to salvage what is left.

Dissolution. After crushing, the ferrous material may undergo dissolution, also known as a leaching or wet law gold process. The ferrous material is immersed in a liquid (usually hydrochloric, nitric, sulfuric, or phosphoric acid) to effectively recover cobalt, nickel, lithium, and manganese.

Reprocessing. Whether the battery undergoes a melting or dissolution process, the recovered materials are reprocessed to create new batteries using the recovered materials.


The Future of Lithium Battery Recycling

Lithium batteries contain important materials such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt, which manufacturers hope to recycle and reuse in future batteries. Batteries made with recycled materials have a carbon footprint of approximately 25% less per kilowatt-hour than batteries made with newly mined materials. In addition, McKinsey reports that recycling can help save on manufacturing costs, as each ton of recycled battery material could be worth $600 by 2025. As interest in electric vehicles and long-lasting lithium-ion batteries grows, we expect lithium battery recycling to increase in order to recover these precious metals and save on the costs and emissions associated with mining.

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