Researchers Use Biomass to Recover Metals from Battery Waste

The pilot project can recover precious metals like cobalt and nickel


Nanyang Technological University NTU Singapore has partnered with Se-cure Waste Management (SWM), a Singapore-based battery recycling and processing firm, to recycle spent lithium-ion batteries using biomass.

The pilot project has a processing capability of 2,000 liters of shredded spent batteries mixed with solvents extracted from fruit peels.

The team claims the project can help extract electrode materials, including cobalt, lithium, nickel, and manganese.

The use of biomass waste, particularly fruit peel, in place of strong chemicals and acids to extract precious metals from battery waste is called hydro-organic metallurgy.

In the new pilot project, spent lithium-ion batteries are shredded and crushed by SWM to form a crushed material from which plastics and metals like copper, aluminum, and iron are separated.

The final product, called black mass, contains precious metals, namely cobalt, lithium, nickel, and manganese, to be extracted for reuse.

The black mass is then dissolved in chemical concoctions derived from fruit peel wastes that have been oven-dried and ground into powder. These patented concoctions are designed to leach out precious metals over low heat.

Fruit peel waste is rich in sugars and naturally occurring antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, and organic acids, all of which enhance the dissolution and recovery of metals from battery waste.

The metals are then precipitated into metal salts that can be used to assemble new lithium-ion batteries.

The team claimed that NTU scientists earlier demonstrated that lithium-ion batteries made from recovered metals showed similar charge capacity to commercial ones.

The researchers are exploring the potential of using other types of biomass waste for the same purpose and pointed out that less than 5% of batteries are currently recycled globally. The volume of waste is projected to increase to 11 million tons by 2030.

The project, situated at Neythal Road near Pioneer Road North, has been functioning since the fourth quarter of 2022. Throughout this year, the team from NTU and SWM will collaborate to improve and assess the technical and economic feasibility of the pilot project and aim to commercialize the technology in the future.

The fruit peel technology for battery recycling has received support from the National Research Foundation and the National Environment Agency of Singapore.

Recently, researchers from Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) 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.

Recently, a latest Berkeley Lab study found India’s edge in renewables, and the recent discovery of lithium reserves can enable a pathway for cost-effective energy independence by 2047.