Are Lithium Ion Battery Recyclable?
The US government has invested $15 million into the ReCell initiative, an industry and multi-institutional collaboration aimed at finding ways to make lithium ion batteries more recyclable. This initiative focuses on finding ways to preserve the cathode, which is the real value of the battery, during the recycling process. It is more profitable to resell the cathode intact than to break it down into the different component parts.
Investing in lithium ion battery recycling
Battery recycling is an increasingly important industry. Its potential to help the environment is clear. By 2025, electric and hybrid vehicles will account for 90 percent of the world’s lithium ion battery market. As these cars hit the road, millions of used batteries will end up in landfills. The opportunity to recycle these batteries is an important part of making the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy.
Direct cathode recycling
Lithium ion batteries are made of lithium ions. They are highly reactive and have low energy density, but there is a good way to recycle them. This method is called direct cathode recycling, and it consists of recovering battery components without disrupting their chemical structure. In this process, the cathode material remains functional, and the lithium ions are recycled directly.
Conventional battery recycling involves breaking down valuable battery components, processing them, and reusing them. This process consumes huge amounts of energy, creates more pollution, and reduces resale value. In addition, the cathode material makes up 30 to 40% of the overall cost of the battery. However, direct cathode recycling enables the recycling of battery cathodes while retaining their monetary value.
Lithium ion batteries can be made using a variety of alternative binders. In particular, latex binders are useful for reducing cell impedance and improving Li-ion conductivity. They also have high adhesion and are flexible over a wide temperature range. However, they only work at full potential when combined with other components.
Currently, most Li-ion batteries use Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) as a binder. This polymer is known for its excellent adhesion and electrochemical stability, but it requires the use of highly toxic solvents and has a high cost. Alternative binders are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, they are water-soluble.
Another type of alternative binders for Li-ion batteries is PAA. This substance exhibits superior binding capabilities on Si anodes compared to other materials. Moreover, PAA also improves the formation of the SEI layer on the anode surface, which acts as a passivating layer. The composition of the SEI is very important for avoiding irreversible capacity loss. Furthermore, the higher the degree of substitution, the better the cycling performance.
Lithium ion battery recycling is a complex process. First, the battery pack must be separated from the steel casing and cells must be unbundled. This dismantling is essential to remove any hazardous materials. The process can also be risky because the electrolyte can catch fire when it is heated.
Lithium ion batteries contain hundreds of cells. These batteries can be heavy, weighing hundreds of kilograms. A typical battery pack from a Nissan Leaf car has 192 pouch cells, while a Tesla Model S has 7,104 cylindrical cells. Once the battery has been separated, it is bundled into modules. Carmakers are attempting to recycle these batteries in order to reduce their impact on the environment.
Lithium ion battery recycling is an emerging industry, but there are many challenges. It requires significant engineering expertise, considerable facility investment, and compliance with regulations. Nonetheless, the cost of reusing Li-ion batteries is lower than it would be for other batteries.
Environmental impact of recycling
When it comes to the environmental impact of recycling lithium ion batteries, the three primary components are the anode, cathode, and battery pack. Other components, such as the separator and the conductive wires, contribute less to the overall environmental burden. The major environmental impact is due to the production of the cathode, which requires copper as collector foil. Graphite, another important material, also contributes to the environmental burden, though it has a very small impact when compared to the other components.
The process of extracting lithium has significant social and environmental impacts. It requires toxic chemicals that can be harmful to ecosystems, food production, and communities. A recent report from the Friends of the Earth Europe charity highlights some of these issues.