While electric vehicles (EVs) are viewed as sustainable modes of transport, little thought tends to be given to the handling of their batteries once they reach the end of their service lives, and batteries may expire and need replacing before the end of the vehicle life itself. Given natural resource limitations, recycling of valuable battery inputs is seen as critical.
To this end, Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is involved in a new battery recycling project — LiBinfinity — focused on a holistic concept for recycling materials of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs). A mechanico-hydrometallurgical process without energy-intensive process steps will be transferred from the lab to an industrial-scale process. A recycling pilot plant with an annual capacity of 2,500 tonnes is being built at the Mercedes-Benz site in Kuppenheim.
KIT will then ascertain whether the recycled materials are suited for the manufacture of new batteries. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) has funded LiBinfinity to the tune of nearly €17 million.
Sustainability of electric mobility largely depends on the batteries. They contain important resources, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. More than 90% of the materials used in lithium-ion batteries can be recycled. The LiBinfinity project, however, goes far beyond metal recycling and 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,” says Professor Helmut Ehrenberg, Head of KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials – Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS). “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.”
Within 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 even higher recycling rates. Materials that cannot be separated mechanically will be split at comparably low temperatures with the help of water and chemicals.
Cathode Materials Must Meet High Requirements
In LiBinfinity, KIT’s task is 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,” says Dr. Joachim Binder, Head of the Synthesis and Ceramic Powder Technology Group of IAM-ESS. “This especially applies to cathode materials, as they largely determine the efficiency, reliability, lifetime, and cost of batteries.” KIT is responsible for the following activities in LiBinfinity: Entry control of recycled materials, synthesis of as new cathode materials, electrode production, manufacture of large-format lithium-ion battery cells of industry quality, cell tests, and evaluation of the battery cells. Based on these studies, requirements on the quality of recycled materials will be defined for their reuse.
A holistic recycling concept for battery materials will not only enhance the ecological, economic, and social sustainability of electric mobility, but also reduce Europe’s dependence on imports of raw materials.
Consortium members under the direction of Licular GmbH, a subsidiary wholly owned by Mercedes-Benz AG include Daimler Truck AG, Primobius GmbH, SMG group GmbH, Mercedes-Benz, Clausthal University of Technology, and Technische Universität Berlin.
Image: Markus Breig, KIT