How can recycling of lithium-ion batteries be improved?

[Translate to English:] Batteriematerialien in ihrer Partikelform erhalten

Lithium-ion battery manufacturing generates production-related waste which cannot be adequately recycled in Europe at present. With demand surging due to the upcoming shift in propulsion technology from combustion engines to electric motors and the development of a European cell production industry in gigafactories, the volume of this production-related waste is likely to increase significantly in the short term. As part of the “Solution-based Release and Reintegration of Functional Battery Materials from Production Waste in Cell Manufacturing” (Liberation) project, which has now started, the Oeko-Institut and Accurec (project lead), CTG GmbH & Co. KG and Fraunhofer IVV are looking at how recycling can be improved. The aim of the project is to develop a process for demonstration at a recycling facility.

A strategy for managing these production-related waste streams, which mainly consist of coated foils, is not available at present. Most of the waste is generated from the ramping up of battery cell production and is associated with the necessary optimisation processes. Later on, waste volumes will amount to a small (single-digit) percentage of total production, likely equating to more than a truck load per day from a battery cell factory. These production-related waste streams are a very valuable and readily available supply of high-quality raw materials and are therefore a particular focus of interest in the recycling industry.

When the waste is treated so that the cobalt, nickel and copper it contains can be recovered, other materials of key importance such as lithium and graphite are lost. One of the objectives of the Liberation project is therefore to develop solvent-based processes that free up the battery materials for reuse (direct recycling). The process is intended to release the pure, high-quality active materials from the battery foils, preserving their particle shape. The graphite and lithium metal oxides can then be recycled and, in a best case scenario, fed back into the battery manufacturing process. If this is successful, the energy-intensive production of active materials from primary inputs can then be omitted. As part of the current project, the Oeko-Institut is conducting an eco-audit of the various processes.

The project is scheduled to run until early 2026 and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action as part of its “Research in the Battery Cell Production Funding Priority” programme. The project management agency is VDI/VDE-IT.