The use of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) to power electronic products is increasing at a fast pace due to their high electrical storage capacity and light weight. LIBs are the type of batteries used in mobile phones and electric vehicles, and thus, it is expected that their use will continue, generating however ever larger streams of battery waste.
As part of the CloseLoop project, we recently published a Master’s thesis (authored by Johanna Valio) offering a critical review of current and emerging technologies for the recycling of LIBs. This review used an original perspective, as it was based on the understanding that LIBs waste can be a source of raw materials. Thus, this thesis work aimed at identifying the potential and limitations of some selected processes in terms of quality and variety of the recycled products obtained, the complexity of the processing stages and their suitability to support a circular economy.
One of the main challenges identified for the efficient recycling of LIBs is the complexity of their chemical composition, further exacerbated by variations in composition between battery manufacturers and that new chemical compositions are expected to enter the market in the near future. The recovery of cobalt, a metal with high economical value, has been the main driver for LIBs until today, for example.
However, this metallic element is being phased out, due to environmental and toxicity concerns. On the other hand, the recovery of other battery components such as lithium and lithium salts may become attractive, if new recycling processes are found that capable of recovering them with an acceptable purity. In general, it can be concluded that only those recycling processes with sufficient flexibility to adapt to continuously changing LIB compositions will succeed in the future.