Battery recycling project takes Li-ion batteries to new frontiers

Thursday, 15 September, 2022

Battery recycling project takes Li-ion batteries to new frontiers

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is involved in a battery recycling project, LiBinfinity, which focuses on a holistic concept for recycling materials of lithium-ion batteries. The project aims to transfer a mechanico-hydrometallurgical process without energy-intensive process steps from the lab to an industry-relevant scale. KIT will then check whether the recycled materials are suited for the manufacture of new batteries. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) provided approximately €17 million in funding for LiBinfinity; of that, approximately €1.2 million went to KIT.

The sustainability of electric mobility largely depends on batteries, as they contain important resources, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese. While many of the materials used in lithium-ion batteries can be recycled, the LiBinfinity project aims to develop a holistic recycling concept for lithium-ion batteries. “When electrifying trucks, batteries will need so much material that recyclates will not suffice for other applications. Indeed, we will need a closed loop for the batteries proper. This means using the materials of spent batteries for the production of new ones,” said Professor Helmut Ehrenberg, Head of KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials – Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS).

With LiBinfinity, partners from research and industry will work out an approach that will extend from logistics concepts to the reuse of recycled materials in the life cycle of the battery. The partners will develop a mechanico-hydrometallurgical process without any energy-intensive process steps to reach higher recycling rates. Materials that cannot be separated mechanically will be split at comparably low temperatures with the help of water and chemicals.

In LiBinfinity, KIT aims to check whether the recycled or recovered materials are suited for the manufacture of new batteries. “Such validation is vital, as materials for batteries must meet high requirements. This especially applies to cathode materials, as they largely determine the efficiency, reliability, lifetime and cost of batteries,” said Dr Joachim Binder, Head of the Synthesis and Ceramic Powder Technology Group of IAM-ESS.

KIT is responsible for a range of activities in LiBinfinity, including the entry control of recycled materials, synthesis of as new cathode materials, electrode production, the manufacture of large-format lithium-ion battery cells of industrial quality, cell tests, and evaluation of the battery cells. Based on these studies, the requirements on the quality of recycled materials will be defined for their reuse. A holistic recycling concept for battery materials will enhance the ecological, economic and social sustainability of electric mobility and reduce Europe’s dependence on imports of raw materials.

The LiBinfinity project is carried out by a consortium under the direction of Licular GmbH, a subsidiary wholly owned by Mercedes-Benz AG. A recycling pilot plant with an annual capacity of 2500 tons is being built on the Mercedes-Benz site in Kuppenheim. The LiBinfinity project aims to meet the EU battery regulations proposed and currently negotiated by the European Commission.

Michael Kellner, Parliamentary State Secretary and the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, said that BMWK aims to close the raw material cycles for battery production. “Drive batteries should be reused after they have been used in the car for the first time and recycled at the end of the product. In order to achieve this, the development of recycling capacities and the development of innovative processes for the recovery of raw materials from lithium-ion batteries are key — and we are promoting both with this project.”

The targets positioned by the EU Commission as part of the EU battery regulation are predicted to lead to extensive investments in new recycling capacities and technologies. From 2031, recyclate quotas will apply to large traction and industrial batteries. This means that a certain minimum amount of recycled cobalt, lithium and nickel must be used in the production of new lithium-ion batteries.

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