Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed a new way to recycle batteries from electric vehicles using a groundbreaking new approach that many have seen in the dentist’s chair.
The Faraday Institution’s Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling (ReLiB) project, led by Professor Andy Abbott of the University of Leicester, has used a new method using ultrasonic waves to solve a critical challenge: how to separate valuable materials from electrodes so that the materials can be fully recovered from batteries at the end of their life.
Current recycling processes for recycling lithium-ion batteries usually lead old batteries to a shredder or high-temperature reactor. Complex physical and chemical processes are then required to produce useful materials. These recycling routes are energy-intensive and inefficient.
By taking an alternative approach and dismantling old batteries rather than shredding them, there is an opportunity to recover more material in a purer state. The dismantling of lithium-ion batteries has shown that a high yield (approx. 80% of the original material) is recovered in a purer state than was possible with crushed material.
The stumbling block of removing and separating critical materials (such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt) from old batteries quickly, economically and environmentally friendly can now be avoided thanks to the new approach, which adapts the current technology, and is widespread in the food preparation industry.
The ultrasonic delamination technology effectively radiates the required active materials from the electrodes, leaving behind pure aluminum or copper. The process was found to be very effective in removing graphite and lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxides, commonly known as NMC.
The study was published in Green chemistry and Professor Abbott’s research team have applied for a patent for the technology.
Professor Abbott said:
“This novel process is 100 times faster and more environmentally friendly than conventional battery recycling techniques and leads to a higher purity of the recovered materials.
“It essentially works like an ultrasonic decalcifier at the dentist’s and breaks the adhesive bond between the lacquer layer and the substrate.
“It is likely that the first-time use of this technology will bring recycled materials straight back into the battery production line. This is a real turning point in battery recycling. ”
Professor Pam Thomas, CEO, The Faraday Institution, commented:
“To get the full value of battery technologies for the UK, we need to focus on the full lifecycle – from mining critical materials to battery manufacturing and recycling – to create a circular economy that is both sustainable for the planet and profitable for the world Industry.”
Researchers at the Faraday Institution have focused on the battery’s lifecycle – from its initial production, to its reuse in secondary applications, to its eventual recycling, to ensure that the environmental and economic benefits of batteries for electric vehicles are fully realized.
The research team is in initial talks with several battery manufacturers and recycling companies to place a technology demonstrator at an industrial site in 2021 with the longer-term goal of licensing the technology.
The research team further tested the technology on the four most common types of batteries and found that it worked with the same efficiency in each case.
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About the University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is led by discovery and innovation – an international center of excellence known for research, teaching and expanding access to higher education. It is among the 25 best universities in the Times Higher Education REF Research Power Ranking, with 75% of the research rated as internationally excellent and having far-reaching effects on society, health, culture and the environment. The university is home to just over 20,000 students and about 4,000 employees.
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The Faraday Institution is driving the UK’s battery revolution and is the independent UK institute for electrochemical energy storage research, skills development, market analysis and early stage commercialization. The Faraday Institution brings together expertise from universities and industry and aims to make the UK the first port of call for research and development of new electrical storage technologies for both the automotive industry and other relevant sectors.
The first phase of the Faraday Institution is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under UK Research and Innovation. The Faraday Institution, based on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, is a registered charity with an independent board of trustees.