Electrochemically- Enabled Holistic Recycling of Lithium Ion Batteries

L. Garris, T. Madden, N. Anderson
Cool Amps Corp.,
United States

Keywords: recycling, lithium-ion, batteries, circularity, sustainability


More innovation is required in the lithium-ion battery recycling space due to low profitability, and a dependence on large-scale operations that is threatened by the lack of significant volumes of used electric vehicle battery packs. The most concerning problem with current lithium-ion battery recycling methods is reliance on producing and processing black mass which is calcined at 600-800 degrees Celsius. The black mass is then shipped to a hydrometallurgy facility to leach out the metals using harsh chemicals. These plants are expensive, lack modularity to change chemistry processing types, and utilize an expensive hub & spoke model to transport batteries. In short, there currently is no path to profitability or sustainability with traditional recycling methods. Cool Amps has developed a patented process that utilizes the battery architecture itself to facilitate the recovery of valuable materials. This process operates at much higher efficiency and much lower capital and physical footprint. The proposed Cool Amps process can be confined within a laboratory space of 1,000 sq ft. and colocate at facilities that dispose of lithium-ion batteries. Moreover, the Cool Amps process significantly reduces the largest recycling/reclamation expense– battery acquisition and transport. Furthermore, the Cool Amps recycling process combines benign extraction chemicals with electrochemical methods. To aid its process, Cool Amps has designed a semi-automated Laminar Flow Extraction Module (LFEM) utilizing a safe, proprietary treatment solution to extract valuable lithium battery materials while leaving the battery architecture largely intact. Cool Amps has focused its R&D efforts on cathode metals recovery from intact cylindrical lithium batteries with the nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) oxide cathode formulation. Cool Amps demonstrated that its LFEM process is selective and removed >99% of the value metals from commercial NMC532 cathodes as measured by Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). Furthermore, Cool Amps directly observed the effects of LFEM treatment on the samples using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) with Energy Dispersive X-ray analysis (EDX), performed on the cathode before & after treatment. Recently Cool Amps has demonstrated, at lab-scale, the selective removal of graphite directly from 18650 battery jelly rolls. Cool Amps seeks to further develop the LFEM to scale up this process and to demonstrate that the recovered graphite has comparable properties to virgin graphite material. The project proposed here will involve building a prototype production-scale LFEM for rapid processing of up to 100 cells simultaneously, extracting both anode and cathode material, and verifying the viability of these components in recycled battery half- and full-cell testing. A successful demonstration of this technique will provide a viable alternative to current recycling practices of producing and processing black mass.