Cylib (€12M to develop lithium battery recycling technology for making sustainable EV batteries)

Cylib, a German clean tech company founded in 2022, has developed lithium battery recycling technology that uses water and supercritical CO₂ to recover lithium carbonate from black mass before it is acid leached or smelted. This early stage lithium recovery avoids costly lithium extraction from a pyrometallurgy treatment and hydrometallurgical purifying of slags. Cylib's method is accompanied by a reduction in CO₂ emissions, and it has a recycling efficiency of over 90%.

Challenges: lithium battery recycling

Why recycle lithium battery

Li-ion batteries are in high demand because electric cars are becoming more and more popular. By 2030, 140 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the roads around the world, and 11 million metric tons of Li-ion batteries will have reached the end of their useful lives. At the moment, most used Li-ion batteries end up in landfills, and only about 5% are recycled.

A typical lithium-ion battery has four key components:

  • Cathode

Containing different formulations of lithium metal oxides and lithium iron phosphate intercalated on a cathode backing foil/current collector (e.g. aluminum)—for example: LiNiₓMnₘCOₙO₂, LiCoO₂, LiFePO₄, LiMn₂O₄, and LiN₀.₈Co₀.₁₅Al₀.₀₅O₂;

  • Anode

Generally containing graphite intercalated on an anode backing foil/current collector (such as copper);

  • Electrolyte

Lithium salts such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF₆), lithium tetrafluoroborate (LiBF₄), and lithium perchlorate (LiClO₄) are dissolved in an organic solvent (e.g., ethylene carbonate, dimethyl carbonate, diethyl carbonate, propylene carbonate); and

  • Separator

Between the cathode and anode: for example, polymer or ceramic based.

So, iron, aluminum, copper, plastics, graphite, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium are all parts of lithium-ion batteries. It is estimated that more than 11 million tons of spent battery packs contain approximately US$65 billion of residual value in metals and other components.

Also, recycling lithium-ion batteries could cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.2 billion equivalent tons of CO₂ between 2017 and 2040. This could be done by offsetting or reducing the amount of raw material from primary sources (like mining and refining) and keeping metals (like heavy metals) and other materials from used lithium-ion batteries from going to landfills.

Thus, recovering materials from spent lithium batteries is highly desirable.

How to recycle lithium battery

Pyrometallurgy is a fire process to recover valuable metals from waste lithium ion batteries. The pyrogenic process burns the organic binder in the electrode material by high-temperature incineration at nearly 1,500 ºC and then obtains the metal compound through flotation, precipitation, and other techniques. Today, several large pyrometallurgy facilities recycle Li-ion batteries, recovering cobalt, nickel, and copper but not lithium, aluminum, or any organic compounds.

Hydrometallurgy processing or chemical leaching is a less energy-intensive and less capital-intensive alternative. These processes for extracting and separating cathode metals typically run below 100 ºC and can recover lithium, copper, and other transition metals. Traditional leaching methods have a drawback in that they need caustic reagents like hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids and hydrogen peroxide. It also requires sodium carbonate (Na₂CO₃) to extract lithium.

Cylib Technology

In contrast to conventional lithium battery recycling technologies, Cylib uses water and supercritical CO₂ to recycle lithium from black mass before it is leached or smelted.

The spent lithium batteries are subjected to burning, shredding, sieving, and sorting in order to obtain lithium enriched black mass and metals such as aluminum, copper, and steel. Lithium is extracted from black mass by using water and supercritical CO₂ at a high temperature and pressure. Through evaporation, lithium carbonate is obtained from aqueous solution. Lithium depleted black mass is smelted or acid leached to extract electrode metals like nickel and cobalt. This early stage lithium recovery (ESLR) method prevents lithium distribution, the further use of additives required for hydrometallurgical treatments, and costly slag refining.

Cylib battery recycling

The diagram below depicts the process of recycling lithium batteries.

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