Recycling in car batteries; What should be the safe and economical approach

12 Mar 2024

Recycling in car batteries; What should be the safe and economical approach
Researchers at the University of Birmingham announced their new approach, which consumes less energy and uses safer chemicals compared to currently used methods, to recycle the cathode, one of the most important components of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries.

Research results have shown that ascorbic acid (vitamin C) selectively leaches the low-value electrode material lithium manganese oxide (LiMn2O4) and can directly recycle the higher nickel-cobalt-based material and leave it in a solid state.

This new method, which focuses on dissolving battery cathodes using strong acids, has significant potential to facilitate battery recycling. The issue of eliminating potentially hazardous waste resulting from the current recycling process poses a major challenge. If the components are mixed, they create a mess of chemistry that can only be separated by chemical processes.

To better understand the effects of ascorbic acid on recycled cathode material, an imaging technique with nanometer-scale resolution “scanning transmission electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray” (STEM-EDX) was examined.

With this imaging technique, it was observed that the Mn and Ni content phase separations overlapped in some places.

Battery chemistry, and cathode chemistry in particular, is constantly evolving to meet the demand for greater energy density, yet battery recycling has remained relatively static, according to Professor Slater, who is part of the ReLiB (Nanometer-scale resolution imaging) project, a multi-institutional research alliance led by the University of Birmingham. and is particularly focused on separating cathodes into their elemental components during the recycling of mixed chemicals.

Slater emphasized that the main challenge in recycling mixed chemicals is separating low and high value materials, and that his methods eliminate the low value material while leaving the high value material in a solid state so that it can be recycled directly, preserving its high value.

“Our method will reduce the cost and number of steps to recover cathode materials, so these materials can be remanufactured and put back into new batteries with a minimal environmental (carbon) footprint,” Slater added.

The research team is working to scale this approach and is seeking long-term partners for trials, striving to integrate it into already used infrastructures or collaborating with further studies to develop the system.

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