Presented by Dr. Linda Gaines, Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory
Nov 15, 2011
Lithium-ion batteries are used in mass-market consumer items, and they are just beginning to be used in vehicles with electric drive. This market is expected to grow rapidly, amplifying the reasons for determining appropriate disposition options for the batteries at the end of their useful lives. Recycling reduces potential environmental issues with disposal, mitigates raw material scarcity concerns, and is required by law in some locations. However, determining the best recycling methods is a difficult problem for several reasons. Recycling processes that are commercially available or under development vary in acceptable feedstocks, process energy use and effluents, and in the form and content of the materials recovered. Material may be recovered as a mixture of metallic elements, reusable active materials, or somewhere in between. As a general rule, higher valued products can be recovered from input streams made up of batteries with a single chemistry, but separation may be difficult or costly, so separation after processing is also being considered. In addition, potentially valuable products like cathode materials from automotive batteries may in fact be less valuable than expected by the time they are actually recovered at the end of the batteries long lifetime. Because battery chemistries are evolving rapidly, it is unclear what the value will be of a cathode material recovered after 10 or more years. Therefore, recovery of material for use earlier in the production chain might be more useful. This work discusses the technical and economic issues involved in development of appropriate recycling methods for large-format lithium-ion batteries.