Project IDcycLIB: greener lithium-ion batteries through circular economy

The IDcycLIB project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The main objective of the IDcycLIB project is to minimise the demand for primary raw material for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) by producing automatically identifiable LIBs that can also be recycled as fully as possible. Therefore, a green LIB with minimised environmental impact will be produced. EurA is carrying out a corresponding life cycle assessment and life cycle costing within the project.


Global lithium-ion battery demand between 2010-2030:

Statista-Batterien

Batteries to fight climate change

  • Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have a wide range of applications, ranging from use in small and large electrical appliances and remote controls to drives for electric vehicles.
  • It is predicted that the demand for LIBs will increase by 178% from 526 GWh to 9300 GWh between 2020 and 2030.[1]
  • As energy storage devices, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are thus of increasing importance in the transition to a circular economy and climate neutrality.
  • As LIBs contain a number of critical raw materials (e.g. nickel and cobalt), reducing the demand for these raw materials and recycling LIBs in general is crucial in the fight against climate change.

Legal Framework for Battery Recycling

The European Union is expected to contribute 17% of the total growth in battery demand.[2] Thus, the recent European Green Deal, Circular Economy Action Plan and Industrial Strategy for Europe can strongly influence the sustainability of LIBs. Collectively these approaches regulate the production and end-of-life treatment of batteries with the goal of improving battery sustainability and avoiding the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. Among other measures, new targets will be set for the efficiency of recycling processes, material recovery, minimum levels of recycled content and repurposing of industrial and EV batteries for a second life. From July 2027, new rechargeable batteries for industrial and electric vehicles will have a maximum carbon footprint threshold. In addition, batteries and their safety risks must be identified on their labels (“battery passport”). These legal requirements present a clear technical challenge and give momentum to the IDcycLIB project.

 

Technical status of Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling

Typically, used batteries are collected, sorted, discharged, and mechanically disassembled into their material components (plastics/metals). The cathode materials are extracted either via hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy. This technical approach has four key limitations:

  1. Pre-sorting batteries is costly and difficult to automate because of the heterogeny in battery material composition, shape, and size.
  2. The focus is on recovering high-value metals (copper, iron, nickel, cobalt), so anode material (graphite) is less commonly recovered than cathode material (e.g. lithium cobalt oxide).
  3. Although lithium is essential to the battery value chain, only 10% of the lithium contained in batteries is currently recovered.[2]
  4. The leaching of lithium and aluminium to recover them via hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy uses environmentally harmful solvents.

 

 

IDcycLIB-Logo

Battery Recycling in IDcycLIB

The IDcycLIB project (funding reference 03XP039I) is a collaboration between 12 industry partners and research institutes to design and produce a greener lithium-ion battery (LIB) as well as its associated recycling process at an industrial-scale. The goal is to reduce the use of and recycle as much as possible of the key materials in LIBs – lithium, cobalt, and nickel etc. – with the smallest possible environmental impacts. Newly developed software will make sustainability analyses more consistent and the life cycle assessment (LCA) process more accessible to non-life cycle assessment experts. The LCA data collection process will also facilitate the creation of battery passports, which identify each battery and, thereby, simplify the recycling process.

 

EurA’s role in IDcycLIB

EurA’s role in IDcycLIB is two-fold. We are:

  1. conducting LCA and life cycle costing (LCC) analyses of the new LIB battery and recycling processes. Identifying the environmental burdens and financial costs and their driving processes will help the project team to find ways to reduce those impacts and costs.
  2. supporting our IDcycLIB partners, IFU and iPoint, with essential LCA data input and output types to help them create generic LCA models for LIBs and find parameters which can later be integrated into their new sustainability software adapted to the (novice) user’s needs. This will expand the practice of LCA and LCC for LIBs, hopefully also reducing the ecological burden from new and existing LIBs on the market.

What we can offer you

Feel free to contact us if you are interested in finding out more about the IDcycLIB project, have general questions about battery recycling or are interested in finding out more about life cycle assessment. You also can find out more about our sustainability consulting here. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Author: Daniel Wilkinson


[1] Statista, 2020, “High Demand for Lithium-Ion Batteries”, https://www.statista.com/chart/23808/lithium-ion-battery-demand/

[2] European Commission, 2020, “Questions and Answers on Sustainable Batteries Regulation”.

 

Daniel Wilkinson

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Daniel Wilkinson

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