Innovative Recycling Process Recovers 70% of Lithium from Spent Batteries

Researchers claim that the new method has large-scale industrial applications


Researchers from Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have devised a low-cost and eco-friendly lithium recycling technique to recover up to 70% of lithium from battery waste without the use of harsh chemicals, high temperatures, or pre-sorting of materials.

Currently, battery waste recycling primarily focuses on recovering nickel, cobalt, copper, aluminum, and steel, with lithium recovery remaining expensive and unprofitable.

Traditional metallurgical processes used for lithium recovery are energy-intensive and generate harmful by-products.

Researchers found that mechanochemical approaches that utilize mechanical processes to trigger chemical reactions offer a more sustainable and efficient solution, promising higher yields with less energy consumption and minimal environmental impact.

In collaboration with the University of Ulm, the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU), and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG, the Institute for Applied Materials – Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) at KIT have developed the lithium recovery method without using corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, or pre-sorting of materials.

The results of this study are published in the journal Nature Communications Chemistry.

The researchers’ process utilizes aluminum as a reducing agent in a mechanochemical reaction, obviating the need for additional substances since aluminum is already present in the cathode.

The battery waste is first ground into a fine powder, and then the powder is reacted with aluminum to create metallic composites that contain water-soluble lithium compounds.

Next, lithium is recovered by dissolving the water-soluble compounds in water and heating to remove the water through evaporation. The mechanochemical reaction occurs at ambient temperature and pressure, making the process highly energy efficient.

The researchers said the method’s simplicity also makes it suitable for large-scale industrial applications, which will be necessary given the high volume of batteries that will need to be recycled in the future.

Oleksandr Dolotko, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the IAM-ESS and HIU, highlights that the process can recover lithium from cathode materials with different chemical compositions, making it suitable for various commercially available lithium-ion batteries.

Dolotko further adds that the method enables cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly recycling.

Lithium-ion batteries have become ubiquitous in our daily lives, powering everything from smartphones and remote controls to electric vehicles. However, their widespread use and the lack of availability of raw materials used to develop them have created a need for sustainable and economically viable recycling methods.

Interestingly, lithium carbonate prices have seen a considerable drop over the last couple of months, raising hopes among industry stakeholders that affordable electric vehicles (EVs) would attract more customers to the segment.

Recently, a latest Berkeley Lab study found India’s edge in renewable generation and the recent discovery of vast lithium reserves, along with deep cost reductions in clean technology, can enable a pathway for cost-effective energy independence by 2047.


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