When it comes to transitioning to electric vehicles and alternative energy, conservatives often point out the fact that disposing of batteries is quite detrimental to the environment. However, we have the technology today to recycle the batteries we use instead of throwing them away. While lead-acid batteries need to discard a few components, you can recycle lithium-ion batteries entirely, provided you have the necessary infrastructure.
Throughout this guide, you’ll learn how to recycle lithium batteries. Maybe you can take it up as an entrepreneurial venture, should you find it profitable. We’ll explore the resources you obtain from the batteries and the processes to extract them safely.
What Is the Process of Recycling Lithium Batteries?
Recycling lithium batteries is a three-stage process.
Isolating the Battery
You need to remove the lithium battery from its housing and separate the circuit attached to it. That circuit can also be recycled as e-waste separately. Once you obtain the battery, you must ensure it’s fully discharged. You can do it by dissolving it in a mild acid solution or shorting the circuit with a nickel strip.
Disabling the Electrodes
Next, you need to sever the connection between the electrodes. That means opening the battery and removing the electrodes physically from the case. That may include leakage of electrolyte, which is usually lithium phosphate. So, it’s best to exercise extreme caution during this stage.
Separating the Base Compounds
Finally, you can separate the base compounds by either shredding the electrodes or dissolving them in a strongly acidic solution. It depends on how much time you have and what volume of waste processing you expect.
How To Recycle Lithium Batteries?
Commercially, you can recycle lithium batteries through the following procedure.
Step 1: Separate the Battery Components
You can physically separate the electrodes after removing them from the primary circuit. Ensure the battery is discharged to prevent shocks or electrical fires.
Step 2: Crush the Components
Chip the components into a fine powder using a milling machine and a hydraulic press. You may require electro-discharge systems to keep the tool from getting electrified over time.
Step 3: Separate the Residue
The residue you obtain may have concentrations of metals like aluminum and cobalt. You can separate them right off the conveyor belt using magnetic separation methods.
Step 4: Purify the Extracts
Once you remove most of the metals, you’ll obtain a dark-colored extract that contains lithium, manganese, and other transition metals. You can convert it to most lithium oxide by putting it in a furnace and heating the mixture to 1000°C (1832°F).
In addition, you can obtain pure lithium by mixing the oxide residue in concentrated sulfuric acid and using electrolysis to separate the ions. However, you probably don’t need to do that as you can directly recycle the lithium oxide for new batteries. Furthermore, the electrolysis utilizes platinum and takes days to extract lithium, making it both time and finance-extensive.
What Is the Best Battery Recycling Technology?
The best battery recycling technology is the one that utilizes metallurgy to chip the battery components and obtain oxides of lithium, manganese, cobalt, and other transition metals. It has several benefits over other forms of recycling methodologies.
- It requires low investment costs and can be done in a small area.
- It recycles nearly 100% of the lithium battery.
- You can run the facility completely using renewable technology, as the power requirements are not extensive.
- There are very low emissions during the process.
- The process is primarily safe as it doesn’t include mixing dangerous chemicals or working with dangerous machinery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much of a Lithium-Ion Battery Is Recycled?
Typically, about 92% of a lithium battery is recycled. Some metals are lost during filtration, whereas the phosphates and silicates from the electrolyte and the external circuit are usually recycled elsewhere.
Who Is the Leader in Lithium Recycling?
As of 2023, Canada is the leader in recycling lithium batteries. Just two of the biggest firms in the country, Li-Cycle Corp. and Lithion Recycling Inc., recycle more than 27,500 metric tonnes of lithium batteries each year combined, with an average recovery rate of 95%. The US, Germany, and Australia also have several plants producing thousands of tonnes of recycled lithium each year.
Can Lithium Batteries Be 100% Recycled?
Yes. You can extract all the materials from a lithium-ion battery with adequate extraction processes. While physical extraction allows for separating metals like aluminum and cobalt, you can also extract lithium, manganese, nickel, and graphite with electrolysis.
Are Tesla Batteries Recyclable?
Yes. Tesla never disposes of its batteries in landfills. Instead, it provides them with a battery recycling plant in the US or Canada that recycles most of the materials. Lately, there have been reports that the co-founder may take matters into his own hands and establish a plant in collaboration with Toyota to recycle lithium batteries within the US.
Why Is It Difficult To Recycle Lithium Batteries?
Li-ion batteries are manufactured to last. As such, they contain several transition metals and miniature circuits that are hard to dissolve, even in strong acids. Moreover, their modular design makes them highly resilient to physical damage and heat. That’s why you have to heat them to 1000°C (1832°F) just to separate lithium and other metal oxides.
Are Lithium Batteries Infinitely Recyclable?
Yes. If the extraction process is performed adequately, you can use the same metals repeatedly without losing efficiency. Although some of the electrolytes can’t be replenished, they are pretty abundant and too easily manufactured to pose an issue.
Is Lithium Battery Recycling Profitable?
Yes. The global lithium recycling industry is set to hit USD 22.8 billion by 2030, with an average CAGR of 19%. Most of the development is required within South and East Asia, where the consumption of EVs and electronics is set to skyrocket within the coming years.
How To Start a Lithium Battery Recycling Business?
In order to start your lithium battery recycling business, you require about 20,000 sq. ft. (0.46 acres) of functional space. The requisite machinery and storage area must fill that. You may also require about 12 personnel to operate and maintain the equipment. Since lithium recycling comes under hazardous waste, you might also require the requisite licenses from the environmental regulatory agency of your country, in addition to the regular business licenses and facility permissions.
Recycling lithium-ion batteries is only possible once most people accept the technology in their daily lives. We hope this guide on how to recycle lithium batteries helped you gain a clear perspective of the industry. With the way things are going, setting up your own lithium recycling plant might prove to be a profitable venture.
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