SK Innovation’s battery recycling technology recognized by U.S. Argonne National Laboratory

SK Innovation’s Institute of Environmental Science & Technology located in Daedeok, South Korea

The environmental friendliness of SK Innovation’s world’s first battery metals recycling technology has been verified via Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) evaluation at the Argonne National Laboratory, a designated research institute under the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the company said in a press release.

Instead of mining raw materials in nature, SK Innovation’s battery metals recycling technology can extract raw materials from used batteries to produce new ones. Accordingly, the Argonne National Laboratory evaluated that SK Innovation’s technology can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emission.

The Argonne National Laboratory added that if lithium hydroxide is produced by SK Innovation’s battery metals recycling technology, there could be a 74% and 41% reduction of greenhouse gases from that of lithium mining and lithium lake production, respectively. Furthermore, the evaluation stated that when manufacturing anodes – a key component of lithium-ion batteries – the greenhouse gases generated from lithium mining and lithium lakes’ raw materials may be reduced by 47% and 39%, respectively.

Subsequently, the biggest concern of the fast-growing electric vehicle industry, regarding the handling of battery waste, can be solved effectively, contributing not only to environment but also to the stabilization of material prices. Such technology has become a groundbreaking role in the growth of the battery industry and EV industry as a whole.

The key to this technology lies in the extraction of NCM(1) metals after first extracting the lithium hydroxide from the collected lithium of discarded batteries, so that it can be used directly in the production of NCM811 and other High Nickel anodes(2).

As such, the use of chemicals for nickel, cobalt, and manganese collection (previously known as hydro-metallurgy) can be drastically reduced. SK Innovation has independently developed this unprecedented technology and is preparing for commercialization.

SK Innovation announced that, “By verifying the environmental friendliness of this technology through an internationally-recognized U.S. national research institute, we expect future collaborations with EV manufacturers regarding the recycling of discarded batteries around the world.”

Supported by the U.S. DOE, the Argonne National Laboratory developed an evaluation model called GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies) that assesses the environmental impact of the energy/traffic sectors as a whole and holds detailed and extensive data regarding the production of electric vehicle batteries.

With this evaluation model, the Argonne National Laboratory has established partnerships with and evaluated the environmental impact of automotive manufacturers, such as GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and energy businesses, such as Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and BP. This evaluation model is recognized and used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California legislation on automobile greenhouse gas reduction as a reliable model.

Since mining minerals for battery materials uses high-temperature chemicals that generates large amounts of sulfur oxide (SOx) and other air pollutants, many have been raising questions regarding the eco-friendliness of batteries. Correspondingly, battery recycling technologies are gaining much attention worldwide.

All the while, the conventional hydro-metallurgy method of most companies is recovering lithium after recovering core substances such as nickel, cobalt, and manganese, and it is in the form of lithium carbonate, which is difficult to apply to Hi Nickel batteries. It also has low recovery rate and purity. With such limitations, the conventional method is viewed as an ineffective way of recycling batteries.

Dr. Lee Seong-jun, Head of SK Innovation’s Institute of Environmental Science & Technology, said, “Compared to other competitors, SK Innovation has secured a differentiated, stable, and eco-friendly battery recycling technology.” Dr. Lee added, “With this technology, we will secure raw materials for battery cathode materials in a more eco-friendly manner, and leap forward as a battery industry leader with the capability to respond flexibly to global environmental regulations.”

Previously, in 2010, SK Innovation participated as a partner in a technology evaluation program led by the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) composed by Ford, Daimler Chrysler, and General Motors in collaboration with the U.S. DOE.

[Reference] Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

The LCA analyzes the environmental impact of the entire process of production, distribution, and disposal, such as the consumption of raw materials and energy and the generation of pollutants and waste. Through this, not only can detailed measures be found by calculating the energy use and pollutant emission, the LCA is necessary for the preparation of countermeasures for the environmental green round. European countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden – as well as the U.S. – have already developed their own full-process evaluation methods, and such developments have recently been introduced in Korea, focusing on large-companies.

(1) NCM: nickel, cobalt, and manganese

(2) High Nickel anodes: required for the production of high energy density batteries to increase battery capacity


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