A startup has developed a way to recycle lithium from lithium iron phosphate batteries without using harsh acids
Spotted: Lithium-based batteries are used in many products, from electronics and appliances to electric vehicles and electrical energy storage systems. And, in recent years, the cheapest form of lithium-ion battery, the lithium iron phoshphate battery, or LFP, has grown in popularity, with the market for LFPs set to reach nearly $53 billion by 2030.
Once batteries stop working, they can be recycled to extract the precious materials, which are then supplied back to battery manufacturers to reduce the demand for new resource extraction. But, for a long time, it proved impossible to recycle lithium from LFPs, until Singapore startup NEU Battery Materials came along.
The company has developed the world’s first sustainable redox-targeting battery recycling solution, which uses electrochemistry to recover materials from crushed batteries, including lithium from LFPs. The new approach offers an alternative to the traditional recycling methods of hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy.
When a battery reaches the end of its useful life it is discharged, and put through a series of crushing processes where key components are removed leaving behind what is known in the industry as ‘black mass.’ In NEU Battery Materials’ process, this black mass is put into a tank – called an ‘anodic reactor tank’ – filled with a proprietary cocktail of chemicals. These chemicals react with the black mass to extract lithium. Unlike other processes, the chemicals used do not include harsh acids and the same batch can be used for multiple cycles, lowering pollution levels.
The solution is then subjected to an electrolyser, where an electric current facilitates the movement of the lithium to a second ‘cathodic’ reactor tank. This second tank is flooded with water, which reacts with the lithium to create lithium hydroxide, which is then dried to form battery-grade lithium hydroxide.
The system is designed to be modular so it can scale rapidly to meet the increasing demand for used batteries. And, in addition to recycling end-of-life batteries, the same process can be used to recycle cathode materials rejected by manufacturers during the initial manufacturing process.
As more and more lithium batteries are being produced, so do their environmental effects, and Springwise has spotted many solutions looking to recycle them once they are no longer needed, like new lithium extraction technology or housing second-life batteries in shipping containers to offer modern commercial and industrial sites more control over energy use.
Written By: Anam Alam and Matthew Hempstead