Li-Cycle, a three-year old company headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario recently announced that had developed a method that allows it to achieve a recycling rate of 80% to 100% of materials in lithium-ion batteries.
It is estimated that 5% of lithium-ion batteries are collected for recycling (i.e. not reuse) globally, with some jurisdictions (e.g. some member states of the European Union) having much more efficient portable battery collection rates of >20%. Once lithium-ion batteries reach recycling facilities today, the existing best available recycling technology uses high-temperature processing (i.e. >1,000°C, also known as smelting, a pyrometallurgical method) to recycle lithium-ion batteries.
Smelting typically recovers 30-40% of the constituent materials in lithium-ion batteries. The residual 60-70% is either volatilized, cleaned and emitted to the atmosphere, or ends up in solid waste (i.e. slag). Smelting specifically targets the recovery of the base metals in lithium-ion batteries – cobalt, nickel and copper – with only proportions recovered thereof. Critical materials such as lithium are not economically recoverable via smelting. Low recoveries result in an impartially closed lithium-ion battery supply chain loop.
Li-Cycle Technology™ uses a combination of mechanical size reduction and hydrometallurgical resource recovery specifically designed for lithium-ion battery recycling. The technology can do so with an unparalleled recovery rate of 80 – 100% of all materials. The recycling process consists of two key stages: (1) Safe-size reduction of all lithium batteries from a charged state to an inert product and (2) recovery of the electrode materials to produce battery-grade end products.
In 2018, Li-Cycle received $2.7 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to develop its novel process for the recovery and recycling of valuable materials from all types of lithium-ion batteries.
Earlier this year, Li-Cycle was named as one of the top 100 international start-ups contributing to the energy transition through the 2019 Start-up Energy Transition (SET) Awards competition. This competition is run by the German Energy Agency (dena) and supported by the World Energy Council.
Li-Cycle has completed three research and development programs/physical validation work streams to date. The company is currently operating an integrated demonstration plant and is in the progressed stages of commercial plant development. Li-Cycle’s physical validation work streams have been premised on a ‘scale-down’ focus, i.e. scaled down relative to commercial scale. Each scale-down stage has been focused on the validation of specific key performance indicators.