The numbers and uses of lithium batteries have been increasing rapidly, with common uses including mobile electronics, electric cars and storage of renewable energy. The batteries are full of scarce materials, and so it is essential to recycle them. Some of the metals contained in the batteries are classified in the EU as critical raw materials, which means that they are important for EU countries’ economies but the risk of insufficient supply is large. Also, if the materials from batteries that have come to the end of their lifespan are not recovered and recycled, they can pose a serious threat to the environment. At the moment, lithium recycling is nonexistent.
Aalto University is at the forefront of research into the value chain of metals related to energy storage. Topics of research include searching for methods for recovering the metals that have been discarded into waste flows in ways that are both economical and environmentally sustainable. In a study recently published in the Waste Management, researchers from Aalto presented a new hydrometallurgical method for separating out battery metals by leaching crushed battery waste with sulphuric acid in reductive conditions. The process makes use of higher solid matter concentrations than earlier research, which means that the solution produced has higher concentrations of lithium, nickel and cobalt. The optimised reductive solution also ensures good selectivity, and thus the copper-rich sediment left over is a suitable ingredient for use in copper works.
In addition, Aalto is also carrying out research on the recovery of rare earth elements, which are also currently not being recovered from battery and permanent magnet waste. Close cooperation is being carried out in these studies of battery waste and rare earth elements with other international leaders in the field such as Central South University and Jiangxi University.
Professor Mari Lundström searches for metals in secondary raw materials and develops methods and processes designed to more effectively recover and recycle metals. Kuva: Glen Forde/Aalto Energy Platform
Come and participate in the Energy Storage Futures events
“Aalto University has taken an active role in shaping an international energy storage strategy. A central component of the strategy should be attention to environmental perspectives and compliance with circular economy principles throughout the whole value chain. Among other things, this means that the structural design of batteries should take into account recyclability and options for reuse, and effective recycling processes should be developed. For Finland to reach the status of being a model country for energy storage, partnerships and different kinds of cooperative projects are needed”, says Professor Mari Lundström from Aalto University.
Aalto University will be holding a series of three breakfast events which will present the challenges of energy storage and the kinds of broad research being carried out on the subject and also provide an opportunity for envisioning together the future of energy storage. The first event, 22 March, will focus on the electrical storage of energy. The following event will be held 19 April (Beyond electrical energy storage) and 31 May (Reducing the need for energy storage). The events will be held in English.
Aalto Breakfast: Energy Storage Futures
Project Manager, Aalto Energy Platform
Manager, Corporate Relations
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Chao Peng, Joseph Hamuyuni, Benjamin P. Wilson, Mari Lundström, Selective reductive leaching of cobalt and lithium from industrially crushed waste Li-ion batteries in sulfuric acid system
Waste Management, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2018.02.052