Innovation That Matters

Li-Cycle's two-step recycling process boasts a 95 per cent recovery rate for critical materials | Photo source Li-Cycle

Mitigating the impact of lithium-ion batteries in the energy transition

Agriculture & Energy

One company’s two-step battery recycling process recovers 95 per cent of critical materials, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel

Spotted: Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) look set to play a crucial role in the future of energy as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. Found in everything from electric vehicles to smartphones and computers, these batteries have several downsides when it comes to environmental impact. Lithium mining is an extremely water-intensive process that involves the use of toxic chemicals. In fact, producing each tonne of lithium requires 500,000 gallons of water. And exacerbating this problem is the fact that several of the leading lithium-producing regions, such as the Atacama Desert in Chile, are among the world’s driest. 

Innovators are rising to the challenge in several ways. Some are exploring alternative ways of extracting lithium, while others are developing batteries that avoid using lithium (and other minerals with a high environmental impact) altogether. But given the current prevalence of LIBs, and the early stage of alternative technologies, one of the biggest things we can do to mitigate their impact is to invest in effective recycling technologies. 

Canadian company Li-Cycle has developed a two-step recycling process that enables the recovery of critical materials, including lithium, cobalt, and nickel. 

The first step of the process involves breaking down the end-of-life batteries into their component parts. The second step consists of refining the materials into different product streams which can then be used for new batteries.

Unlike other battery recycling processes, which require high temperatures, Li-Cycle’s patented approach relies on chemistry, using unique ‘hydrometallurgical’ technology that is more environmentally friendly. Moreover, traditional approaches to battery recycling typically result in the loss of up to half of the useful recycled material in comparison to Li-Cycle’s 95 per cent recovery rate. The Li-Cycle system can handle batteries of various sizes used for different applications.

The company has recently announced that it plans to expand its operations into Europe. The company will open spoke facilities in Norway and Germany in the first half of 2023, with an aim to recycle 65,000 tonnes of batteries annually by the end of that year. This expansion will help Li-Cycle to meet the growing demand for its services as the world moves toward a more sustainable future.

Other innovations spotted by Sporingwise that re-use end-of-life batteries include e-rickshaws that give a second life to electric vehicle batteries, a startup re-purposing used electric vehicle batteries into home energy storage systems, and technology that yields pure graphite from used lithium-ion batteries.

Written By: Katrina Lane



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