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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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The Future Of Lithium-ion Battery Recycling

  • The traditional recycling of Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs) is complex, often resulting in waste and safety risks.
  • Using aprotic organic solutions, the new method can efficiently extract lithium from anodes without the risk of fires or explosions.
  • The innovative process is cost-effective, and sustainable, and offers a promising direction for lithium-ion battery recycling in the future.
Lithium Battery

Chinese researchers have introduced a novel approach for the recovery and recycling of lithium from used Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs). The team explored the technique by publishing in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Lithium-ion batteries provide our portable devices like tablets and cellular/mobiles – and increasingly also vehicles – with power. As the share of volatile renewable energy needing electricity storage increases, more and more LIBs are needed, lithium prices rise, resources dwindle, and the amount of depleted batteries that contain toxic substances increases.

The recycling of LIBs is a difficult undertaking. The recovery of lithium of a quality high enough to be used again is complicated and expensive. Most recycling processes are targeted at extracting the lithium from cathodes (where most of the lithium in discharged batteries is located). However, it then precipitates out together with other metals contained in the cathode and must be painstakingly separated.

Extraction from the anodes, which consist primarily of graphite, is significantly more efficient and can be carried out without discharging the battery beforehand. Because of their high reactivity, however, the risk of fires and explosions is high if the anodes are leached out with aqueous solutions, as is usual. These reactions release large amounts of energy and may produce hydrogen.

A team led by Yu-Guo Guo and Qinghai Meng at the Institute of Chemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS) and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) has now developed an alternative method that avoids these problems. Instead of water, they use aprotic organic solutions to recover lithium from anodes. Aprotic substances cannot release any hydrogen ions, so no hydrogen gas can form.

The solutions consist of a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and an ether as the solvent. Certain PAHs can take up a positively charged lithium ion from the graphite anode together with one electron. Under mild conditions, this redox reaction is controlled and very efficient. With the PAH pyrene in tetraethylene glycol dimethyl ether, it was possible to dissolve the active lithium from the anodes almost completely.

An additional advantage is that the resulting lithium-PAH solutions can be used directly as reagents, for example, in adding lithium to new anodes in preprocessing or in regenerating spent cathodes. The PAH/solvent system can be varied to optimize it for the material being treated.

The new recovery process is efficient and inexpensive, reduces safety risks, avoids waste, and opens new prospects for the sustainable recycling of lithium-ion batteries.

***

Perhaps this is the solution to getting those millions of batteries off the third world country beaches and dumps. One does wonder when seeing the photos just how all this will work out over time.

But that shows the prime problem before the recycling can even begin – getting the batteries out and to a recycler. No matter the process, no battery turned in, no recycling.

Then there is the matter sure to come up – using this process’s chemicals. Everyone wants no nasty chems in their neighborhood, but writing up a process without even a slight mention just sets everyone on edge. An aromatic hydrocarbon plus ether strongly suggests that an gas tight facility will be needed with remote controlling features.

But something has to be done and soon. One day there is going to be a catastrophic used lithium ion battery disaster and a jump into likely the not best engineering art.

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So lets get the engineering art underway. Today’s post suggests a leader . . .

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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