Are lithium batteries recyclable?

lithium batteries are recyclable

Lithium batteries are portable energy storage devices used in a wide range of applications, from mobile phones to electric vehicles. These batteries are very popular due to their high energy density, which means that they can store a large amount of energy compared to their size and weight. However, one of the most common questions is whether lithium batteries are recyclable.

In this article we are going to tell you if lithium batteries are recyclable, what their costs are and how they can be recycled.

Operation of a lithium battery

Are lithium batteries recyclable or not?

The key to the operation of lithium batteries lies in their internal structure. These batteries contain one or more individual cells, and each cell is made up of three main components: an anode (negative electrode), a cathode (positive electrode), and an electrolyte. The anode is made of graphite, the cathode is composed of lithium cobalt oxide, and the electrolyte is a solution that allows lithium ions to flow between the electrodes.

When the battery is charged, lithium ions move from the cathode to the anode through the electrolyte. This process is driven by a chemical reaction that occurs within the battery cell. During the download, lithium ions return from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte, generating an electrical current that can be used to power electronic devices or electric motors.

The capacity of a lithium battery is measured in milliampere-hours (mAh). and determines how much energy it can store. The higher the battery capacity, the longer a device can power before needing to be recharged.

These batteries require a charge management system to ensure safe operation and extend battery life. This system is responsible for controlling the flow of current during charging and discharging, avoiding overloads or excessive discharges, and protecting the battery against adverse conditions, such as high temperatures.

Are lithium batteries recyclable?

batteries washing

When we talk about circular economy, we always think about the recovery of all the compounds and components of waste. However, achieving it is really complicated from a technical point of view, especially from an economic point of view. If we also add that the starting residue is non-rechargeable lithium batteries, Today's challenges are ones that the recycling industry can hardly afford.

From a disposal point of view, recycling lithium batteries is not attractive. The exact opposite of the name of its sister rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The latter contains cobalt, a chemical element sought after for its high market value, making it a huge draw for the recycling industry.

However, we must recycle all cells and battery packs. Furthermore, the recycling industry must make it technically and economically feasible.

Lithium recycling project for non-rechargeable batteries

lithium recycling system

Currently, there is no industrial process dedicated to the recovery of primary lithium. Due to the decision to recycle with other types of lithium batteries, it is difficult to quantify the elements recovered from these batteries. The basic objective of the RELIBANE project (financed by ICEX under contract 14/2019) for the recovery of lithium from non-rechargeable batteries is research at the laboratory level. Subsequently, a specific and unique hydrometallurgical process was developed on an industrial scale.

In this way, the lithium contained in the primary batteries collected as waste can be recovered. In this way, lithium and other elements present in the battery can be used as raw material for the manufacture of new batteries, reducing the need for natural raw materials.

From an energy and environmental point of view, hydrometallurgical processes to extract lithium would be more favorable than existing processes. The method proposed by Envirobat Spain in the RELIBANE project consists of two main processes: mechanical and chemical, preceded by an equally important step: the discharge of the battery.

lithium properties

Lithium is a highly reactive metal and presents a high risk of fire if not handled properly. Therefore, the first stage of the process is the optimization of the battery discharge process. For this, various solutions containing ecological solutes are used, in which batteries are inserted. This download method favors the subsequent reuse of reagents, thus avoiding the generation of waste.

This is followed by the physical separation followed by the concentration of the lithium that is intended to be recovered as the main element. It should be noted that the performance and quality of the recovered compounds are mainly determined by the final stage, the hydrometallurgical stage, which is divided into two main steps: leaching, whose purpose is to extract lithium and precipitation, through which the desired lithium compound is obtained. The subsequent recovery of the remaining compounds leached with lithium will be studied.

Future goals

One way to make recycling ubiquitous is to make manufacturers think about recyclability from the start. In recent years, the idea has gained traction: manufacturers and recyclers work together to make a profit by generating as little waste as possible.

In a linear economy, when a battery runs out, it ends up in a landfill. But in a circular economy, batteries don't go to waste, but rather restart their lives as raw materials and return to the manufacturing chain.

But for the circular battery economy to work, recycling plants must match the production of manufacturing plants. This would ensure a continuous supply, reduce costs and potentially reduce the environmental footprint compared to mining. Developing partnerships across the supply chain, from refineries to car manufacturers to battery recyclers, will be critical to making this happen.

The innovation of lithium-ion batteries is still in the development stage, compared to half a century of lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries have made remarkable progress in just over a decade. However, it may take another decade before the solution really reaches the scale needed.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about whether lithium batteries are recyclable and what characteristics they have.

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