This PFI: AIR Technology Translation project focuses on translating a fundamental recycling technology to address gaps in the existing Li-ion battery recycling processes. The translated recycling technology demonstrates lower cost and higher efficiency when compared to existing hydrometallurgical or pyrometallurgical recycling techniques in this market space. The project accomplishes its objectives by recovering cathode materials from spent Li-ion batteries and producing new cathode materials regardless of the Li-ion battery cathode chemistry. In addition, the project will recover copper current collectors using a sensor-based sorting technology that, combined with the proposed hydrometallurgical recovery process, will result in a closed-loop industrial recycling process for Li-ion batteries with varying chemistries. The partnership engages wTe Corporation to provide guidance in sensing technologies to extract copper-bearing materials. wTe will also assist with addressing marketing, financing, and commercialization issues in order to translate the proposed Li-ion battery recycling process to a competitive commercial reality.
With increasing consumer demand for hybrid cars, electrical cars, portable electronics, and grid systems, the usage of Li-ion batteries is increasing and is only projected to rise in the future. Since the largest Li reserves exist in politically unstable or uncooperative countries, demand for these critical resources are a matter of national strategic importance. Additionally, from an environmental perspective, the electrolyte in Li-ion batteries is flammable. If Li-ion batteries are burned, toxic HF could be released into the environment. Existing recycling techiques aimed at Li-ion batteries are either cost-prohibitive or unable to accommodate the ever-changing Li-ion battery chemistries. Employing a combination of improved Li-ion extractive metallurgy and sensor-based sorting technologies, the proposed collaboration between WPI and wTe will enable the development and commercialization of a novel recycling process that will address these limitations, the growing demand for critical materials, help mitigate environmental risks, and secure strategic national interests.