A new horizon for battery recycling
Cathode-to-cathode suggests bright future for li-ion sector Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – February 19, 2020
Last updated 6/27/2020 at 5:18am
Adapting to a future of renewable energy, trendsetters are focusing on recycling lithium-ion batteries to create a more efficient repurposing of one of the most vital and important technologies of today and possibly the future.
Lithium-ion batteries have been around for decades but as we see a forward push for an electric future, the demand has changed to necessity. Global climate concerns, finite resources and the sheer growth of technology that requires mobile energy all necessitate a new direction and one that has been a long time coming.
From smartphones to power tools, lithium-ion batteries are omnipresent in our day-to-day lives. It wasn't until Tesla developed its Model S line of electric vehicles, however, that these batteries became a household name.
Now with the viability of EVs in the face of the public, together with the growing concerns over carbon emissions, a desire for clean technology and energy is evident and certainly the next step in our technological evolution.
Whether we are talking wind, solar or EVs, energy storage is paramount to this evolution and lithium-ion batteries are currently the storage of choice.
With the advantages that lithium-ion batteries bring, there are some disadvantages as well. Even after decades it is still considered an emerging technology, and what to do with these cells after they are spent and how to ensure an ongoing supply of the minerals and metals that go into them are ongoing questions.
While the cost may be considered high, companies have begun looking for new methods to better recycle the numerous valuable resources that go into the production of lithium-ion batteries.
Companies like American Manganese Inc.
Lithium-ion battery breakdown
American Manganese is a Canadian based company that focuses on critical minerals and particularly the recycling of EV lithium-ion batteries with their patented RecycLiCo technology.
Now, this does not mean that recycling of lithium-ion batteries did not exist priorly. However, to better understand the potential that American Manganese is presenting, one must glimpse inside lithium-ion batteries.
If you were to take a battery cell out from the battery pack and break it down, you will find three main sections – cathode, made up of metal oxides; anode, made up of graphite; and an electrolyte solution.
Now metal oxide is a chemical compound formed between metals and oxygen, you've seen this before with rust, being a type of iron oxide.
Inside a lithium-ion battery cell, this metal oxide is typically made up of some combination of lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese.
This graphite layer on the anode side is sort of like an egg carton that holds lithium ions and electrons until it is used as electricity.
In between these two sides of the battery is an electrolyte solution that works as a barrier for electrons but allows lithium ions to pass through.
So simply put, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery is a repeating complete circuit with very little loss of energy in a neat self-contained system.
So far, recycling of the cathode material has not been efficient. American Manganese believes its recycling technology is a breakthrough on this front, which could be a gamechanger for a clean renewable future.
Today the precision of measurements for all the components in lithium-ion batteries has become a very exact science. We have managed to develop with the materials and technology available to us a battery with the least amount of degradation for maximum cell performance.
American Manganese have made it their purpose to recover and recycle a battery after it has outlived its life by reclaiming as much of the batteries materials without destroying or reducing the components.
Generally recycling of batteries would involve burning it down to molten slag and sifting through the remains by weight and with magnets. This method of recycling is harmful to the environment and not nearly efficient enough to enable a viable measure of reuse, thus keeping the cost of batteries high.
American Manganese has been able to achieve nearly 100% salvage of the cathode materials. With cathode metals accounting for more than 50% of the actual material cost of a battery.
What does that mean?
The importance of these in a lithium-ion battery is that lithium atoms remain stuck securely in the metal oxide and when we recharge our device the lithium ions and electrons are pulled through separate paths before resting in the graphite egg carton.
When using our devices, discharging the battery, the lithium ions return to the metal oxide by way of the electrolyte solution "wall", and the electron gives us electricity by passing through a separate path.
American Manganese plans to reclaim the valuable metal oxide materials in lithium-ion batteries through a process they call cathode-to-cathode recycling.
They take the cathode material of a used battery. These components, they then treat it with metallurgic leaching and other specialized metallurgical processes to salvage the rare critical minerals contains in the metal oxides of a battery's cathode.
Every battery manufacturer has their own chemical and heat treatment process and yet American Manganese has developed a method that reclaims nearly all the material used in producing batteries.
This concept is called cathode-to-cathode as it means a near perfect reclamation of material being used to create another new similar product. Battery-to-battery.
Imagine if you had a vehicle you have driven for twenty years and it is taken to a factory and they were able to disassemble it, repair it, replace it, however you want to call it, and they spit out a new car almost identical in new condition?
This is an exaggerated example yet with something as potent and indispensable as batteries being able to recycle it almost 100%, the cost effectiveness and potential for EV and all other devices that require lithium-ion batteries makes this nothing short of revolutionary for the energy storage industry.
American Manganese was able to report a 99.88% purity level of recycled cathode materials.
Mind blowing potential
Containing critical minerals that are globally valuable and economically important, the cost of future lithium-ion batteries is quite high as the projected expense will only continue to grow.
From the 3 million electric vehicles reported on the road from 2019 we can expect to see a 4,000% increase to 125 million by 2030.
This doesn't include the 2 million metric tons of spent lithium-ion batteries per year as of 2019 growing to an expected 60 thousand metric tons per year by 2030 as well.
Furthermore, the anticipated growth of battery production could achieve 1 terawatt by 2028 which is equivalent to 22 Tesla Gigafactories.
All this equates to a lot of lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling in the coming years and decades.
With nearly 99.9% reclamation of the essential minerals in lithium-ion batteries, American Manganese has accomplished something only dreamed of. An ever-growing industry with crucial minerals and a technology to reuse them nearly indefinitely.
American Manganese has been conducting a great number of tests at the RecycLiCo pilot plant to further enhance material recovery and purity. In addition, it shares its feasibility studies with industry leaders.
Ultimately, the company wants to develop a commercial opportunity that provides their cathode-to-cathode recycling for the lithium-ion industry and they are certainly making the headway for it.
American Manganese has also recently started collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy National Labs regarding EV batteries as both lithium and cobalt recovery are main objectives.
The prospect of this technology and its potential to brighten our electric future is mind blowing.
More information on Amercian Manganese and the RecycLiCo process can be found at https://americanmanganeseinc.com/.
What EV has done for the future
Many of the industry leaders in automobiles have been jumping on the bandwagon towards fully electric vehicles. The public viewpoint for clean energy has been too big to ignore and the cautious attempts to introduce EVs via hybrids just wasn't good enough.
Automotive powerhouses have gotten the message, Ford is expected to release their new all-electric line of Mach-E vehicles by spring of 2021.
As of 2019, nearly all the big auto companies have begun releasing their lines of EV. So, it is understandable that a need for more lithium-ion batteries will grow and the numbers will skyrocket over the next decade.
After an EV battery runs its course, instead of melting it down and defeating the purpose of owning a clean car, American Manganese is creating the new industry standard.
With all these batteries being made, besides recycling them for near perfect reuse, they will be available for repurpose as well. EV batteries have 70 to 80% of their capacity remaining when they reach the end of a typical 10-year vehicle lifespan. The possibility for storing wind and solar energy could breathe new life into EV batteries before they even need to be broken down for recycling.
Of course, this is just with the mindset of the technologies we have right now, who knows what will come about in the next decade. Even if some new revolutionary technology that could replace everything being written about today doesn't come, the outlook on what we do have and what we are doing with it looks very promising indeed.
Find out more about a study on efforts to make lithium-ion battery reuse and recycling more efficient with blockchain, artificial intelligence, intelligent labelling and internet of things in Battery passport for reuse and recycling in the Feb. 5 edition of Metal Tech News.