Li-Cycle Corp. new technology retrieves 95% of lithium battery content

Mississauga, Canada-based Li-Cycle Corp. has developed a process to retrieve more than 95 percent of the content of any lithium battery, while recovery rates have traditionally been 50 percent or below; and the technology can produce battery-grade lithium, reports.

The process involves use of no toxic chemicals and the entire module can be shredded, a relatively inexpensive way to break it down while mitigating fire risk.

“The traditional thermal process is not tailored to efficiently recover what’s in batteries. And it has a big cost,” says Ajay Kochhar, president and CEO of Li-Cycle.

“There is no tipping fee involved with our process and we are recovering more. Also, we don’t discharge the batteries before processing, meaning we don’t remove charges, yet we mitigate fire risk by shredding them through our proprietary process involving a nontoxic solution.  While discharging is an additional cost and involves soaking batteries in brine, which is somewhat unsafe,” he says.

As far as environmental benefits, a third-party lifecycle analysis confirmed a 60 percent greenhouse gas emissions savings relative to recovering the same amount of material from mining.

After the material is shredded, the mechanical components are separated to include copper, aluminum and plastics. Then comes the wet chemistry process to separate materials such as nickel, cobalt and lithium.

“Through our process, we basically are remaking the fundamental building blocks of the battery that can go into new batteries. And we are transforming lithium batteries away from a liability into an asset. We focus on making our business case work based on what’s in the battery when before the focus with end-of-life batteries was on disposing of them,” says Kochar.

He refers to Li-Cycle’s system as a hub and spokes model, with “hub” being the chemical processing facility that will be a large, centralized location for economy of scale.  The “spokes” facilities, where the batteries are shredded, will be small, regionalized locations.

The first U.S. plant, which will be a spokes operation in Rochester, N.Y., will have input capacity of 5,000 tons per year of lithium ion batteries and is slated to launch in the fall of 2020, pending no restrictions related to the coronavirus.

“We selected the Rochester location because it’s where the Eastman Kodak Park is. After a decline in camera film they have allowed other companies to reuse their existing infrastructure they built over many years. So there are facilities tailored to do chemical processing, a good labor pool, a good logistics connection, and it’s relatively close to our Canadian headquarters,” says Kunal Phalpher, chief commercial officer of Li-Cycle.

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