by Fabian Diaz, Mimitech
Development of the batteries for the future takes more than only working on the device performance. The new development should also fulfil the European regulations regarding recycling targets and move towards sustainable systems. At CoFBAT and from day zero, we have been working on the recycling concept of the new cobalt-free batteries. This working concept covers the development of a recycling path and a definition of the recycling targets applied to the designed battery sets and material matrix. The raw materials utilised to develop the newly proposed battery system within the CoFBAT project have been limited to the following main cell components: the LNMO (Li1.0Ni0.42Mn1.58O4) as cathode material, Si/C composite and TNO (TiNb2O7) as anode material, a Gellified binder and Gel polymer electrolyte (1M LiPF6, EC/PC (50/50) + 2 % VC). Also, it is proposed to use materials like copper foil, aluminium foil, and graphite and polypropylene film as separator material.
The ongoing recycling concept is considered a multi-step process, where targeted elements are separated in the by-products’ streams, intermediate, and final products. Considerations regarding commercial value are also considered to contribute to the circular economy of raw materials. Base metals from the battery/module structure like copper and aluminium are separated during the mechanical treatment of the CoFBAT battery cells. Despite the challenging mechanical separation process of Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs), the downstream processing for base metals does not represent a significant challenge for recycling, as the Best Available Technology (BAT) for their recovery is well established and developed at the industrial level. The recycling concept developed at CoFBAT should be concentrated in the main elements representing an added value to the recycling chain by ending up in commercial products, like lithium recovered as LiOH, Li2CO3 or LiSO4, nickel recovered as NiSO4 or Ni(OH)2 and possibly graphite in a commercial degree. In addition, and intending to go beyond state of the art, a proof-of-concept to recover Ti, Nb, graphite and re-utilisation of wastewater in the recycling process will be evaluated to contribute to a zero-waste recycling concept. Copper and nickel recovery are given with an expected minimum 80% efficiency. The relatively low value only responds to the low Technology Readiness Level (TLR) phase planned in CoFBAT for recycling. Nevertheless, this value might be increased with the development and addition of process optimisation while elaborating the experimental plan.
The process recycling chain is linked to different industry branches where the by-products find a strategic market for commercialisation. For the evaluation, an LCA (Life cycle Analysis) and Life Cycle costing (LCC) are to be defined along with the development of the battery systems. These analyses are based on experimental results and collected data from partners in the production and recycling sector. It is expected at the end of the CoFBAT project that the new systems will already come with a set of recommendations for proper end-of-life handling. This strategy promotes sustainable development and enables the circular economy of raw materials and conservation of our limited resources.
The full report on the study on possible recycling path (including a flow sheet and mass balance) can be found on the CoFBAT website.