Leicester expert leads groundbreaking battery recycling invention
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Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed a new method to recycle electric vehicle batteries using a revolutionary new approach – which many will have experienced 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 used a new method, involving ultrasonic waves, to solve a critical challenge: how to separate valuable materials from the electrodes so that the materials can be fully recovered from end-of-life batteries.
Current recycling methods for recycling lithium-ion batteries typically feed end-of-life batteries in a high temperature shredder or reactor. A complex set of physical and chemical processes is then required to produce usable materials. These recycling routes are energy intensive and inefficient.
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If an alternative approach is taken and end-of-life batteries are dismantled rather than shredded, more material can be recovered, in a purer state. Disassembling lithium-ion batteries has been shown to recover a high yield (around 80% of the original material) in a purer state than was possible with ground material.
The stumbling block – how to remove and separate critical materials (such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt) from used batteries in a fast, economical and environmentally friendly way – can now be avoided with the new approach which adapts technology currently widely used in the food preparation industry.
The ultrasonic delamination technique effectively blows the required active materials from the electrodes leaving virgin aluminum or copper. The process has been found to be very effective in removing graphite and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, commonly referred to as NMC.
The research has been published in Green Chemistry and the research team led by Professor Abbott has applied for a patent for the technique.
Professor Abbott said: âThis new process is 100 times faster and more environmentally friendly than conventional battery recycling techniques and results in higher purity of recovered materials.
âIt works essentially the same way as a dentist’s ultrasonic scale remover, breaking the adhesive bonds between the coating layer and the substrate. It is likely that the initial use of this technology will reintroduce recycled materials directly into the battery production line. This is a real change in the recycling of batteries.
Professor Pam Thomas, CEO of Faraday Institution, said: âFor the full value of battery technologies to be captured for the UK, we need to focus on the entire lifecycle – from mining from critical materials to battery manufacturing to recycling circular economy that is both sustainable for the planet and profitable for industry.
Researchers at the Faraday Institution focused on the battery life cycle – from initial production to reuse in secondary applications to eventual recycling, to ensure that the environmental and economic benefits of vehicle batteries electrics are fully realized.
The research team is in initial discussions with several battery manufacturers and recycling companies to place a technology demonstrator on 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 battery types and found that it performed equally well in each case.