The Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Process

You may know that instead of throwing your old lithium-ion batteries in the trash you are supposed to recycle them. But what happens when they get recycled? With all of the chemicals in a lithium-ion battery, it surely can’t be a simple process, right?

While the lithium-ion battery recycling process isn’t simple, it is very valuable, both economically and environmentally. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what happens to your lithium-ion batteries when they go through the recycling process. Here is what happens in each step of the process:

Collecting

Your batteries are collected by an electronics recycling or collection facility and then safely transported to a processing facility. This process can take some time. Once they arrive, they are sorted with other similar batteries (based on similar anodes and cathodes, physical appearance, etc.). The batteries are now ready to be processed.

Repairing and Reusing

Batteries are then assessed to see if they can be repurposed. Sometimes they can be reused as is, sometimes they can be fixed by simply replacing a part, and sometimes they can be used for a new function such as storing excess solar power from solar panels.

Discharging

The next step for the batteries not being repaired or reused is to discharge all remaining electricity. This is often done by soaking the batteries in a brine solution, which is the cheapest method. Some alternative methods include thermal processing, cryogenics, and a close-circuit resistor.

Shredding

The batteries are now shredded. The purpose of this shredding is to collect as much valuable “black mass” as possible, which can be used to make new cathodes and anodes. The shredded batteries are sifted to separate contaminants like coppers, plastics, and other binders, leaving manufacturers with black mass.

Recovering Metals

The next step in the recycling process is to filter metals out of the black mass. There are two common ways of doing this: smelting and leaching. Smelting, also known as pyrometallurgy, uses high temperatures to extract the metals. Leaching, also known as hydrometallurgy, uses liquid solutions to extract the metals. Recycling these metals keeps them out of landfills, where toxins would contaminate groundwater over time. It also prevents miners from needing to mine more of these metals, providing a significant positive impact for the environment.

Manufacturing new Batteries

These recycled materials are then shipped out to battery manufacturers, who will use them to make new batteries, completing the cycle.

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Unfortunately, while lithium-ion batteries are less toxic than lead-acid batteries, the recycling of lithium-ion batteries isn’t as common as lead-acid recycling yet. While it is a hugely beneficial process, both environmentally and economically, many places don’t have enough infrastructure yet for this process to be a common occurrence. However, as demand for lithium-ion batteries grows, so does the significance of establishing efficient and ecological recycling procedures.  CMB is taking steps to promote safe and effective lithium-ion battery recycling.

For more information on lithium-ion battery processes and best practices, visit our website.

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