Revolutionizing Aircraft Battery Recycling

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Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have introduced a groundbreaking, low-cost, and eco-friendly mechanochemical recycling process. As energy storage tanks become more prevalent, sustainable recycling methods for valuable materials in these batteries are crucial. Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in our daily lives, from powering laptops and smartphones to toys, remote controls, and other wireless devices.

They also serve as the central energy storage for the rapidly expanding electromobility sector. Consequently, the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries necessitates sustainable and economically viable recycling techniques.

Recycling Energy Storage Waste

Currently, the primary components recovered and recycled from energy storage waste are nickel, cobalt, copper, aluminum, and steel. Lithium recovery is still costly and not very profitable.

Most metallurgical processes available consume significant energy and produce harmful by-products. In contrast, mechanochemical approaches, which employ mechanical processes to initiate chemical reactions, offer higher yields at lower costs and improved sustainability.

A New Sustainable Recycling Method

The recycling method developed at KIT can recover up to 70% of lithium from battery waste without using corrosive chemicals, high temperatures, or prior sorting of materials. This innovative method combines mechanical processes with chemical reactions, providing a cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly solution for recycling various lithium-ion batteries.

The process was developed in collaboration between experts from KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) and the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU), which was established by KIT in partnership with the University of Ulm and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG.

Dr. Oleksandr Dolotko, KIT IAM-ESS and HIU, the lead author of the publication, explained, “The method is suitable for extracting lithium from cathode materials with different chemical compositions and thus for a wide range of commercially available lithium-ion batteries.

This enables cost-effective, energy-saving, and environmentally friendly recycling.” The researchers used aluminum as a reducing agent in the mechanochemical reaction. Since aluminum is already present in the cathode, no additional materials are required.

The Mechanochemical Process

The recycling process begins with grinding battery waste. The ground waste is then reacted with aluminum to create metal composites containing water-soluble lithium compounds. Lithium is recovered by dissolving the water-soluble compounds in water, followed by heating to evaporate the water.

As the mechanochemical reaction occurs at ambient temperature and pressure, the process is highly energy-efficient. Furthermore, the simplicity of the process allows for easy industrial-scale application, as large volumes of energy storage will require recycling in the near future. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications Chemistry.

Source: nature.com

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