Industrial Processes to Recycle Critical Metals from Batteries in Development

A project to develop new industrial processes for the recycling of critical metals including Cobalt, Lanthanides, Lithium and Nickel is underway in Spain.

Third generation Toyota Prius battery – Credit: Toyota

Spanish technology company, Tecnalia is to operate pilot projects at battery recycling plants as part of the CoLaBats initiative, which aims to provide new industrial processes for the recycling of the critical metals Cobalt and Lanthanides.

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In addition to the two critical metals, it is also hoped to improve the recycling of key economic metals Nickel and Lithium from waste batteries, significantly improving recycling efficiencies and metal purity from existing recovery routes.

The CoLaBats initiative said that it will primarily target Li-ion and NiMH using novel task specific ionic liquids (TSILs) to selectively extract the metals.

These types of batteries are found in everyday consumer products such as mobile phones, portable media players, etc., as well as other industrial equipment, and are prevalent in hybrid and electric vehicles, which are becoming increasingly widespread on our roads.

Project plan

The initiative will consider various TSILs which it said are low-cost, non-toxic, environmentally benign, and require minimal or no processing to reuse them.

As part of this, the battery recycling processes will be up-scaled to a pilot system using standard hydrometallurgical equipment and will include other novel concepts to further improve the process.

The pilots will be operated in an industrial setting at Tecnalia battery recycling plants and demonstrated to the wider recycling and battery communities.

It is hoped that the technology will result in:

Substantially reducing landfill waste by recovering recyclable metals of high purity Reduced critical metal consumption through increased recycling efficiencies of spent battery waste. Hence, high purity recovered metals can be recycled into new batteries rather than landfilled, or in the case of nickel, processed into lower value stainless steel Substantially reduced environmental impact through more sustainable hydrometallurgical processing to replace current standard pyrometallurgical processes. This could reduce energy consumption and emissions of CO2 and other pollutants. Increased capability of the SME community to carry out the complete recycling process, thereby taking advantage of the potential value chain of critical and high value metals markets.

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