Battery recycling water reuse

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Battery recycling water reuse

Lithium battery recycling

March 8, 2023

Lithium battery recycling

Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium is used in our everyday lives from small everyday appliances to electric vehicles.

Almost 20 years ago, it was the technology behind the lithium-ion battery that enabled phones, tablets and laptops to become impossibly slim – seemingly overnight. It’s the technology that now enables engineers to pack a 400-mile range into the latest EVs (electric vehicles.)

Without it, we’d all be carrying around suitcase-sized cellphones and the latest EVs would have the speed and range of a milkfloat. Batteries now account for 73% of lithium use – up from 23% in 2010.

The strategic elements that make up modern rechargeable batteries include lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese. Lithium is used more than any other metal due to it being so lightweight which gives great energy density. It’s estimated that the global market for lithium-ion will increase from USD 1.7 bn in 2020 to USD 6.55 bn in 2028. This demand is mainly driven by the ramping up of EV manufacture.

The UK now has over 1 million EV and PHEV (plug-in hybrid) cars registered. This rapid rise, (from under 50,000 in 2016), spurred on by subsidies and company tax incentives, looks set to continue. Bearing in mind the UK’s planned 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars and 2035 ban on the sale of hybrids.

Arvia can provide battery recycling water treatment technology

Lithium battery recycling industry

Friend of Earth (FoE) Europe estimates that only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries in the European market are currently being collected and re-cycled. This illustrates the importance to improve lithium battery recycling especially as metals are becoming a scarce material.

With small lithium-ion batteries hard-wired into most phones, tablets and laptops, removal and recycling is a complex and time-consuming process and reclamation of the valuable strategic metals within them will always be challenging.

EV vehicle batteries, on the other hand, present a slightly easier proposition due to their size and the amount of strategic metals available to reclaim.

Conventional wisdom has it that once batteries are not of use in EVs, they can still be used in stationary installations like domestic power storage. From a recycling point of view, this is really just kicking the can down the road as eventually these batteries will still come to the end of their useful lives.

EV Battery recycling facilities are starting to open worldwide to take up the anticipated market growth. It’s worthwhile recycling as lithium is expensive – and its price is increasing fast due to demand for EVs.

The majority of lithium is extracted by an evaporative process. But many places where lithium is mined are also in areas of extreme water scarcity, creating conflicts with local populations, other industries and agriculture. Therefore, recycling in this particular case has a powerful environmental purpose.

Arvia’s Ellenox water treatment systems can assist companies in lithium battery recycling by removing many organic recalcitrant compounds from wastewater used in both processes allowing wastewater reuse.

Electric car battery recycling

Recycling EV batteries is quite a challenging process due to fire risks from short circuits and the chemicals contained within the batteries themselves. When batteries are assembled in a pack as in EVs this can cause thermal runaway in the whole pack resulting in serious explosion. The first step in the recycling process is to discharge the batteries safely using water to leach the components and prevent explosion.

EV batteries contain plastics, solvents and electronic components as well as strategic metals like cobalt, nickel and lithium. Battery recycling has two goals – to protect the environment and to recover the valuable strategic metals.

Arvia’s Ellenox water treatment can make a real difference to the amount of water used in processes of this nature. Our Ellenox systems for water reuse have been proved to remove over 95% of Total Organic Carbon (TOC) from battery recycled wastewater.

Lithium-ion battery consumer electronics

Alongside the burgeoning growth in EV power packs, many more domestic items are now powered by lithium-ion batteries. The makers of everything from vacuum cleaners to smart speakers are encouraging users to enjoy a cordless future.

Notwithstanding the issues of size and affixation, the challenging process of battery recycling at end of life needs to ramp up soon. Otherwise, the world will literally run out of lithium. And it may be too early for other battery technologies like sodium-ion, lithium-sulphur or solid-state batteries to fulfil the demand.

Dealing with more compounds from a large variety of battery types means a greater variety of pollutants in resultant wastewater. Arvia’s Ellenox systems can remove a whole variety of recalcitrant compounds, allowing water reuse – often down to parts per trillion.

Lithium-ion battery industrial applications

In parallel with the domestic market, industry has embraced ‘cordless’ working, with lithium battery-powered machines often replacing those powered by legacy ‘wet’ batteries, LPG or compressed air, as well as wired electricity.

Whilst larger batteries (say from forklifts or other movers) can be recycled like EV batteries, smaller ones from handheld devices like scanners present the same challenges as mobile phones and tablets.

But again the batteries from all these devices will need recycling at some stage and again Avia’s tech can ensure efficient wastewater recycling, lessening the environmental impact of the whole process.

Arvia can provide battery recycling water treatment technology

Battery recycling process explained

Recycling of lithium batteries is carried out at specialist installations.

First, before the recycling process can begin, the battery is fully discharged. After dismantling and removing all the re-cyclable materials like plastics, metals and copper wiring, the cells themselves are shredded in a process designed to avoid the risk of fire.

The shredded material is then mechanically separated. Copper, plastic and aluminium are recovered, leaving what is known as ‘black mass’: a mixture of oxides of cobalt, nickel and lithium.

The black mass is then separated, normally using a hydro-metallurgical process. The metals are recovered as oxides which are further processed to be used again – mainly in batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries environmental impact

The extraction of lithium and the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries both present major environmental issues.

Most lithium is extracted by an evaporative process. The resultant brine also carries many other chemicals. In the case of leaks or overflows, it can cause immense damage to watercourses and aquatic and animal life. Also many areas where lithium is extracted are also in areas of extreme water scarcity, creating potential conflicts with people, industry and agriculture.

Likewise, lithium battery manufacturing can present environmental issues and leaks from plants are not unknown.

Therefore, Arvia’s industrial wastewater reuse has a powerful environmental purpose as well as making sense from a conservation aspect.

Arvia’s Ellenox water treatment systems can remove many organic compounds including many of those used in battery recycling down to trace levels to ensure efficient water reuse.

Lithium battery wastewater treatment benefits

Increasingly stringent environmental regulations will mean that battery recycling (most likely to carried out in countries where a large proportion of EVs are operated) will be further regulated in years to come.

With water becoming increasingly scarce and its continuity of supply sometimes compromised, water used in recycling processes (both the initial shredding of cells and the subsequent chemical treatment of black mass) will need to be recycled and re-used as much as possible.

Arvia wastewater treatment solution

Arvia’s Ellenox™ systems can offer a permanent and easy-to-commission solution of polluted water used in battery recycling. The lithium batterries contain a wide range of recalcitrant organics and our Nyex technology has the capability to remove over 95% of TOC from the battery wastewater.

This means that water reuse in any recycling plant will increase considerably and any water that is sent to the sewers or watercourses will be well within current environmental limits.

Arvia’s systems can be retrofitted in a variety of positions within a water treatment train and have the advantage of no moving parts and requiring little maintenance. They also have the advantage of not requiring tip-ins of hazardous materials.

For a detailed explanation of how the Arvia Ellenox wastewater recycling system works, see this page.

Incineration alternative method

In many cases, the alternative to treatment with Arvia’s innovative systems is to incinerate wastewater. Apart from not looking good on any company’s environment audit, incineration is expensive and actually only moves the location of pollution somewhere else.

On the other hand, an Arvia Ellenox™ or Rosalox™ system reduces pollutants to just gas and water – with no chemical sludge and no hazardous tip-ins. Requiring little maintenance they can be remotely sited and can be scaled up or down to suit demand for water reuse.

For more information of how Arvia’s technology could assist water re-use in wastewater recycling worldwide, contact us today to set up a conversation with one of our highly qualified water engineers.

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