Upcycling old cathodes for new batteries
RecycLiCo upgrades lithium-ion cathode recipes to NMC-532 Metal Tech News – June 30, 2021
Last updated 7/6/2021 at 4:27pm
To steer away from using expensive and oft controversial cobalt, electric vehicle and lithium-ion battery manufacturers have brewed up new recipes with higher percentages of more abundant nickel and manganese for their newer generation cells.
"Modern lithium-ion battery cathode chemistries have rapidly evolved to having less cobalt and more nickel or manganese materials, which does not reflect the cathode chemistries of older batteries approaching their end-of-life," said American Manganese President and CEO Larry Reaugh.
So, when these early generation lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide (NMC) batteries are recycled, the end product is a cathode material with a ratio of metals that is not in line with the recipe battery makers are looking for.
As a pioneer in lithium-ion battery cathode recycling, American Manganese understands this dilemma and has come up with a solution that allows its patented RecycLiCo process to upcycle old cathodes to the new chemistries being used in the batteries powering EVs.
The number designation in the name of nickel-manganese-cobalt lithium-ion batteries is related to the ratio of the three cathode metals. For example, the previously preferred NMC-111 batteries had equal parts nickel, manganese, and cobalt in the cathode, whereas the cathode of a newer generation NMC-532 battery is 50% nickel, 30% manganese, and 20% cobalt.
By dissolving cathode material from spent lithium-ion batteries or scrap from the manufacturing process, American Manganese has already shown that its patented RecycLiCo process can produce greater than 99.9% pure cathode material – with exactly the same nickel-manganese-cobalt ratio as the input material.
Seeking to produce a product customized to go directly into modern battery recipes, American Manganese tasked its research and development partner Kemetco Research Inc., a leading metallurgical laboratory based in British Columbia, to adjust the ratio of cathode metals in a leach solution produced during the RecycLiCo process.
"Adjusting the ratio of the leached metals enhances the RecycLiCo process giving us flexibility to directly 'upcycle' older cathode chemistries, such as NMC-111, into modern electric vehicle cathode chemistries, such as NMC-532," said Reaugh.
So far, Kemetco has used this technique to produce NMC-532. American Manganese says future testing is planned to produce the NMC-622 and NMC-811 – cathode precursor materials increasingly being used in batteries.
American Manganese says the ability to recover nearly 100% of the cathode material and then produce a high-quality cathode material that does not need further processing makes RecycLiCo a cost-effective and efficient solution for achieving the battery materials recycling envisioned by the Biden administration and laid out in a June report that followed a 100-day federal review of America's supply chains.
"With the global lithium battery market expected to grow by a factor of five to ten by 2030, it is imperative that the United States invests immediately in scaling up a secure, diversified supply chain for high-capacity batteries here at home," the White House penned in a June 8 statement on battery supply chains. "That means seizing a critical opportunity to increase domestic battery manufacturing while investing to scale the full lithium battery supply chain, including the sustainable sourcing and processing of the critical minerals used in battery production all the way through to end-of-life battery collection and recycling."
In the extensive report, the Biden administration recommends policy initiatives that could encourage the vertical integration of battery recycling processes such as RecycLiCo to be developed alongside lithium-ion battery megafactories. The enormous lithium-ion battery factories being built across the U.S. and around the world produce at least 10% scrap during the manufacturing process, providing a feedstock for establishing battery recycling until the early generations of EV batteries reach the end of their useable life.
"Without a footprint in the earlier stages of manufacturing (including materials processing, as well as electrode, cell, and pack manufacturing), intermediate recycled products will be exported to markets/countries that have these capabilities," the administration inked in its supply chain report.
American Manganese, which has entered into a preliminary agreement to develop a lithium-ion battery cathode recycling facility alongside a battery gigafactory to be built in Italy by Italvolt, says the RecycLiCo process could offer a similar solution for scrap and old battery recycling and cathode precursor material production in one closed-loop process at battery factories in the U.S.