lithum batteries recycling

Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and industry partners have launched a collaboration to develop a more efficient direct recycling process for spent batteries, by means of which the active components are recovered while maintaining their functionality. The project is funded by the German Federal Research Ministry with approximately €3 million.

The associated high need for lithium-ion batteries requires sustainable and closed material cycles, from battery materials throughout the battery lifecycle to recycling as well as a closed cycle of battery cell manufacture. By closing the chain of added value, we can reduce Germany’s and the European Union’s dependence on raw materials.

—Dr. Marco Gleiß from the Institute for Mechanical Process Engineering and Mechanics

Gleiß is KIT’s coordinator of the project “Agile Process Chain for Direct Recycling of Lithium-ion Batteries and Regeneration of Active Materials” (DiRecReg).

In current recycling methods, battery cells are crushed and active materials are dissolved down to the molecular level for later extraction from the liquid in the form of metal salts. In this way, up to 90% of critical elements, such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese, can be recovered. However, consumption of energy and chemicals is very high. More energy and raw materials are then required for the production of new battery material from the materials extracted.

New, highly promising approaches, by contrast, are based on the direct recycling of active materials from spent batteries or production waste.

The active materials are no longer dissolved completely. Instead, they are decomposed into their constituents and separated mechanically so that highly pure fractions can be recovered.

—Dr. Marco Gleiß

Such a direct recycling process is not yet used in industry, as the behavior of the recycled material cannot be predicted. Criteria and rules to assess the usability of the aged material are still lacking and so are economically efficient solutions to decompose different battery packs into their constituents with a reasonable expenditure.

These aspects are addressed by our project. It primarily covers the development of an agile process chain for the direct recycling of lithium-ion batteries and regeneration of the recovered active materials. —project coordinator Dr. Thomas Dreyer from Weber Ultrasonics AG.

Dreyer points out that it is important that the process can be adjusted to various starting materials of battery production as well as to production waste and can be used to recycle various battery types and designs.

We also want to replace the energy-consuming steps of today’s recycling processes, the objective being to obtain sustainable recyclates of a high quality,” Gleiß adds.

The DiRecReg project is scheduled for a duration of three years and funded with €2.95 million by the Federal Research Ministry. The project consortium under the direction of Weber Ultrasonics AG consists of ten partners and one associated partner. Among them are four institutes of KIT: wbk Institute of Production Science; the Institute for Mechanical Process Engineering and Mechanics; the Institute of Applied Geosciences with the Chair for Geochemistry and Economics Geology; and the Thin-Film Technology Working Group.

The six industry partners are: Battery cell manufacturer PowerCo SE; the materials technology and recycling group Umicore AG & Co. KG; the manufacturer of gripping and handling systems SCHUNK SE & Co. KG; plant integrator FIBRO LÄPPLE TECHNOLOGY GMBH; and plant manufacturers Carl Padberg Zentrifugenbau GmbH and Weber Ultrasonics AG. Siemens supports the project in the area of control and digitalization systems as an associated partner.

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