Closing the loop: The lithium used in batteries must be recovered
What if we electrify the world? To do this, we’d need a lot of lithium-ion batteries. The problem is, lithium is a comparatively rare element. Lithium mining is also hard on the environment. That makes one of the biggest challenges of electrifying the world getting enough lithium while not severely degrading the environment. The common-sense solution would seem to be recycling the lithium we’ve already mined. The problem with that solution is that it hasn’t been economically viable – until now. A group of companies has come up with a way to recover the lithium used in batteries in a green, sustainable, and economically viable way. This new recycling process is slated to be in place as soon as the last quarter of 2021.
The companies implementing the lithium-ion battery recycling process
Four companies have invested in this new lithium recycling technology. LiNiCo Corporation, Comstock Mining, Green Li-ion, and Aqua Metals have come together to provide LiNiCo with capital and resources to implement the new technology. LiNiCo CEO Michael Vogel says:
“Closing our initial investment round with Comstock and Aqua Metals provides LiNiCo with the necessary capital and resources to start our much-needed efforts to close the loop on end of life batteries, to divert batteries from going to landfill and to recover the maximum amount of critical metals possible using our state of the art and unique process and technology. Our Green Li-ion technology is currently the most advanced hydro-metallurgical process in the world, which allows us to process spent Li-ion batteries into high-quality black mass and then further convert our black mass into the highest quality rejuvenated individual battery metals and our 99.9% pure cathode products for reuse in to new EVs and all types of electronic devices and Li-ion battery-powered applications.”
To implement this new recycling technology, LiNiCo has taken over a Nevada recycling facility it acquired from Aqua Metals. The facility will be refitted to suit LiNiCo’s specific needs. Additionally, Aqua Metals is providing its hydrometallurgical process to bolster the new recycling technology.
What is black mass?
When lithium-ion batteries are dismantled, the parts containing electrodes, which include the lithium cells that make up the battery, get crushed into a powder which is known as black mass. That mass contains valuable elements such as graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium. These elements can be recovered using Aqua Metals’ hydrometallurgical process, which produces no toxic waste. The traditional method of recovering the metals used in lithium-ion batteries uses solvent extraction. But that process is complicated and slow, which made it a major stumbling block to lithium-ion battery recycling. The new process uses precipitation, the settling out of particles from a liquid, which precipitates cobalt and nickel together. The new process is water-based, and it’s cheaper and faster than solvent extraction.
Pure cathode technology
Green Li-ion contributed its 99.9% pure cathode technology to the new recycling process. This process recovers the cathode (negative terminal) of spent lithium-ion batteries without having to separate out the metals used to manufacture the cathode. LiNiCo, using Green-Li-ion’s process, plans to recover 10,000 metric tons of pure cathode in the next three years.
No resource is infinite
Comstock Mining’s CEO, Corrado De Gasperis, says that no resource is infinite and that most of the lithium used in batteries will need to be recovered at some point:
“We see spent lithium-ion batteries as a potent industrial mineral, and – as with any resource, we need the right team, technology, and infrastructure to extract and process it. This transaction assembles all three into an ecosystem of aligned partners, operating systemically on a common goal.”
He’s right, lithium from the ground is getting more scarce, if we are going to electrify the world, we’ll need to make maximum use of all the lithium we’ve got.
Freedom Forever is excited for the future of battery electric power
Freedom Forever installs home batteries and is excited for what the future of battery power will bring. Home batteries offer a solution to high utility rates by enabling a home to use more of the power its solar system generates instead of sending that power to the grid. Batteries also enable a solar system to continue providing power to a home during a blackout. This new lithium-ion recycling technology “closes the loop” between the mining of raw materials for batteries and their production by providing an invaluable source of renewable lithium. Recovering the lithium we’re using today will be a major step towards electrifying the world.