As demand for lithium-ion batteries surges, a Singapore startup has come up with a clean, cost-effective way to tackle the limitations of current battery recycling technologies.
Around the world, the demand for rechargeable lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) is growing fast. That’s because under existing climate policies, there’s an international push to rapidly increase the number of electric cars on the road as a way to reach net-zero emissions.
But an LFP battery’s use fades when it reaches the end of its life. Once discarded in a landfill, its cells can leach toxic waste materials, including heavy metals. To compound the problem, the waste stream is likely to get worse as more EVs hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2040, two-thirds of all worldwide car sales will be electric, potentially generating a massive 1,300 gigawatt hours of LFP waste batteries annually.
“Batteries are crucial for a low-carbon future, so we need to find an effective recycling solution now. It’s also in everyone’s interests to make sure that the recycling process is safe and sustainable – which is why we’ve created a way to achieve just that,” says Bryan Oh, co-founder and CEO of Singapore start-up NEU Battery Materials.
Bryan Oh in Neu Battery Material’s pilot facility.
Bryan Oh, co-founder and CEO, Neu Battery Materials
Our method allows us to produce high-purity, battery-grade lithium with a focus on near-zero waste and minimal emissions. The raw material can then be recycled back into manufacturing supply chains, rather than ending up as landfill waste.
Harnessing cutting-edge electrochemical technology
NEU Battery Materials has come up with a novel LFP battery recycling solution that builds on research initially conducted at the National University of Singapore (NUS) by a team led by Professor Wang Qing. Here, electrochemical redox targeting technology is harnessed to extract the lithium from spent LFP battery cells.
“Recovering raw materials from these batteries is typically a complex undertaking that involves smelting or bleaching, along with multiple purification stages. But as our process relies on electricity, we can avoid all that. We also use regenerative chemicals in place of harsh acids,” Oh says.
Once the batteries have been crushed into black mass and placed in a reactor, the NEU Battery Materials’ solution extracts the lithium in the form of lithium hydroxide. The process also generates hydrogen as a byproduct.
Once the black mass is mixed with Neu Battery Materials’ concoction of chemicals, the liquid is passed through these tubes and into the next phase to obtain lithium and hydrogen byproducts.
“Our method allows us to produce high-purity, battery-grade lithium with a focus on near-zero waste and minimal emissions. The raw material can then be recycled back into manufacturing supply chains, rather than ending up as landfill waste.” says Oh.
Unlike other battery types, LFP batteries don’t contain sought-after and expensive raw materials such as nickel and cobalt, so in the past there has been less incentive to recycle them. But NEU Battery Materials believes that because its solution is so cost-effective, recycling LFP batteries can now become more of a profitable undertaking compared with existing recycling technologies.
Its approach is especially timely given that lithium prices are predicted to keep rising as demand outstrips supply. This means there is a growing need for alternative sources of the raw material to sustain the EV industry’s growth.