Researchers develop one-pot solution for recycling lithium-ion batteries

As the world moves away from carbon-based energy, lithium-ion batteries have emerged as a popular energy storage option. However, this has led to a rise in lithium battery waste, as these batteries slowly degrade over time and lose capacity.

Disposing of lithium batteries in landfills or incineration poses environmental and safety risks, as toxic elements can potentially leach into the soil and water. Recycling lithium batteries requires a complex process of extracting valuable metals using hydrometallurgy, which drives up the cost and lowers the recycling rate.

To simplify this process, Professor Bartosz A. Grzybowski and his interdisciplinary research team at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in South Korea developed a novel method for recycling valuable metals like lithium, nickel, and cobalt from spent lithium-ion batteries. The team used their expertise in spinning concentric liquid reactors to carry out multi-step reactions in a single chamber, simplifying the extraction-stripping process for lithium battery recycling. Their findings were published in Advanced Materials.

Dr. Olgierd Cybulski designed a horizontally rotating reactor capable of processing complex metal mixtures containing aqueous feed, organic extractant, and aqueous acceptor phases within the same vessel. Unlike membrane-based one-pot setups, this reactor can be vigorously stirred and emulsified without aqueous layer coalescence. By rotating these liquids in a manner that forms stable concentric layers, interfacial mixing occurs efficiently while avoiding coalescence. This process is incredibly efficient, separating metals within minutes, using a low concentration of extracting agents and exhibiting high selectivity, as per co-author Dr. Cristóbal Quintana.

Figure 3. Images illustrating the progress of the separation process. The color of the feed phase evolves from dirty green to light green, indicating improved purity of nickel. Credit: Institute for Basic Science

The study highlights that concentric liquid reactors, particularly their segmented versions, can quickly extract valuable metals from highly concentrated mixtures, using lower extractant concentrations than current methods. Additionally, they offer access to previously unexplored ranges of process parameters and boast favorable power-to-operate ratios compared to reactor size, making them a promising alternative to traditional hydrometallurgical methods. Moreover, these reactors could potentially be used to separate other valuable metals, beyond those found in batteries, since the technology is easily adaptable to different feed metal compositions. Professor Grzybowski emphasizes that this technology is forward-looking and adaptable.

Source: Institute for Basic Science

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