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Battery recycling: advances towards a circular battery economy

Batteries are becoming key energy storage devices to promote the transition to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy system and transport thanks to the improvement of their performance, the reduction of their price, as well as their weight and volume per unit of stored energy and the development of new applications in various fields.

However, the sustainability of the batteries themselves is in question due to the complexity and high cost of recycling them, which can limit their production volume and their application in certain fields. At the moment when large factories of batteries for electric vehicles are being planned, the problem of the waste that these batteries will generate at the end of their useful life is already being raised. All current recycling processes are based on shredding the batteries and then selectively extracting its components in successive separation stages by pyrometallurgical or hydrometallurgical methods. In the case of Lithium-ion batteries, these processes are only profitable when the battery contains a sufficient amount of valuable metals, especially Cobalt and, to a lesser extent, Nickel.

IMDEA Energía works on the evaluation of circular economy strategies for the management of traction batteries, including the techno-economic and sustainability analysis of this type of system. The activities based on Life Cycle Analysis, LCAs, of batteries combined with a prospective analysis have focused on modeling the end of life of batteries by:

  • Using battery life cycle inventory models prospectively to answer the question: how much will various end-of-life options, such as reuse or recycling, impact?
  • The simulation of novel battery recycling processes to know their potential for recovery of secondary materials and the reduction of impact associated with said processes.

On the other hand, IMDEA Energy is investigating a new concept of injectable semi-solid electrodes that would considerably facilitate the recycling of electrode materials and the reuse of non-active components of the battery. In addition, the thickness of the electrodes is adapted according to the required areal capacity and allows to inject different types of electrode material depending on the needs. Proofs of concept have been carried out with various types of batteries such as Zn - LiFePO4, LiTi2 (PO4) 3 - LiFePO4 and Li - LiFePO4. The results indicate that this strategy may be especially interesting for batteries that use low-cost active materials compared to the cost of non-active materials.

The technology is protected by patent filing and may be useful for the battery cell manufacturing industry, manufacturers of electrode materials used in Lithium-ion batteries (such as LFP, NMC, NCA and others), producers of Lithium salts or battery recycling companies.

More information: Félix Marín, Responsible for Development and Technology Transfer, felix.marin@imdea.org

 

Illustration of the injectable battery concept. (a) The preassembled cell is fabricated and (b) filled with semi-solid electrodes. After end-of-life (several years), the injectable battery is regenerated by (c) removing the spent semi-solid electrodes, (d) leaving the cell ready for (e) injecting fresh semi-solid electrodes.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, April 28, 2021