Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles

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Abstract

Rapid growth in the market for electric vehicles is imperative, to meet global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improve air quality in urban centres and to meet the needs of consumers, with whom electric vehicles are increasingly popular. However, growing numbers of electric vehicles present a serious waste-management challenge for recyclers at end-of-life. Nevertheless, spent batteries may also present an opportunity as manufacturers require access to strategic elements and critical materials for key components in electric-vehicle manufacture: recycled lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles could provide a valuable secondary source of materials. Here we outline and evaluate the current range of approaches to electric-vehicle lithium-ion battery recycling and re-use, and highlight areas for future progress.

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Fig. 1: The waste management hierarchy and range of recycling options.
Fig. 2: Examples of three different battery packs and modules (cylindrical, prismatic and pouch cells) in use in current electric cars.
Fig. 3: LIB cathode chemistries.
Fig. 4: Diagram showing challenges of disassembly at different levels of scale.
Fig. 5: Flow chart representing potential routes for the circular economy of LIBs, detailing second-use applications, re-use, physical recovery, chemical recovery and biorecovery.
Fig. 6: Comparison of different LiB recycling methods

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Acknowledgements

Many of the ideas suggested for recovery of high-value materials will be trialled by the Faraday Institution’s ReLiB fast-start project funded by the Faraday Institution (grant numbers FIRG005 and FIRG006) and by the ReCell Center, at Argonne National Laboratory, funded by the US Department of Energy. We acknowledge the contribution to the creation of the ReLiB project of N. Rowson (Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials). We also thank Q. Dai at Argonne National Laboratories for providing additional data for Fig. 6.

Author information

G.H. and P.A. produced the original concept of the Review, and wrote the article, integrating contributions from the team and editing and shaping the review. G.H. produced the ‘Social and environmental impacts of LIBs’ section. R. Somerville and E.K. collaborated on the ‘Physical materials separation’ and ‘Stabilization and passivation of end-of-life batteries’ sections; E.K. produced the ‘Biological recovery’ section. L.D. and P.S. produced the ‘Direct recycling’ section and part of the ‘Hydrometallurgical metals reclamation’ section. R. Stolkin and A.W. collaboratively produced the ‘Automating battery assembly’ section. P.C. provided contributions on safety, and safe discharging of batteries, O.H. contributed to the supply and value chain, environmental impact and economic assessments and S.L. provided information on battery re-use. A.A. and K.R. produced most of the ‘Hydrometallurgical metals reclamation’ section. L.G. critically revised the article. Figures 1 and 2 were created by G.H. (with help from R. Somerville and E.K.) and Fig. 4 was created by R. Somerville. Figure 3 was created by L.D., P.A. and G.H. and Fig. 6 was created by G.H. and L.G.

Correspondence to Gavin Harper or Paul Anderson.

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Harper, G., Sommerville, R., Kendrick, E. et al. Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles. Nature 575, 75–86 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1682-5

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