New project aims to commercialise holistic recycling processes for lithium batteries

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has this week announced its involvement in the 'LiBinfinity Project’, aiming to develop energy-efficient recycling content for lithium-ion batteries.

KIT lab

An objective of the new project is to develop a mechanico-hydrometallurgical process of lithium battery recycling on a commercial scale. In particular, it intends to devise an approach that will extend from logistics concepts to the reuse of recycled materials in the life cycle of the battery.

More than 90 per cent of materials used in lithium-ion batteries are recyclable, including cobalt, nickel, and manganese. The LiBinfinity Project, however, is looking to develop a holistic approach to recycling the batteries – aiming to enhance the ecological, economic and social sustainability of electric mobility, and reduce Europe’s dependence on imports of raw materials.

With the potential to recover 96 per cent of recycled battery material, one particular advantage of a holistic approach is a wider consideration of the logistics of using old batteries for recycling, and the use of recyclates for the synthesis of new electrode materials.

Without using energy-intensive steps to reach high recycling rates, this new method will mechanically separate materials in the batteries and use water and chemicals at lower temperatures to process remaining substances.

Aiming to meet the EU’s proposed battery regulations currently being negotiated by the European Commission, the project has received €17 million from the Battery Ecosystem Program –  funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

As a significant partner to the project, KIT will oversee which recycled and recovered materials are suitable for manufacturing new batteries. Licular, a battery recycling subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz AG, will oversee the recycling process and the holistic approach, with construction of a CO2-neutral pilot factory at the car company’s Kuppenheim plant in southern Germany. They are joined by partners at Daimler, truck AG, Primobius GmbH, SMG group GmbH, Clausthal University of Technology and Technische Universität Berlin.

Further, the Institute is responsible for entry control of the recycled materials, synthesis of new cathode materials, electrode production, the manufacture of large-format lithium-ion battery cells of industry quality, cell tests, and the evaluation of battery cells. Based on its work in these areas, quality standards of recycled materials will be defined for their reuse.

By 2023, the partnership aims to have a mechanical dismantling plant built to begin stage one of the process. Stage two, subject to available support from the public sector, will then see the opening of a plant where the hydrometallurgical processing of the battery materials will take place.

Professor Helmut Ehrenburg, Head of the Institute for Applied Materials - Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) at KIT, said: “When electrifying trucks, batteries will need so much material that recyclates will not suffice for other applications. 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.”

Doctor Joachim Binder, IAM-ESS’s Head of Synthesis and Ceramic Powder Technology Group, added:  “Such validation [of recycled materials] is vital, as materials for batteries must meet high requirements. This especially applies to cathode materials, as they largely determine the efficiency, reliability, lifetime, and cost of batteries.”