HIF and the sustainable research on materials for batteries

Froth Flotation Graphite ©Copyright: Vanderbruggen, Anna

Froth Flotation Graphite © Anna Vanderbruggen

Mainly driven by E-mobility the demand on and the waste by batteries increases. Therefore, the development of efficient recycling technologies and the integration of recovered materials into battery cell production is necessary. The aim is to close material cycles.

Lithium is one of these materials whose demand is rapidly growing, but Europe’s resources are limited. So, new ways of thinking and acting are necessary, based on a European circular economy and global networks. In order to prevent future bottlenecks, the EIT Raw Materials platform together with leading European research institutions initiated the European Lithium Institute eLi. The virtual institute will gather relevant stakeholders along the whole lithium battery value chain to generate focused international cooperation. Founding members for the initial stage are Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology at the HZDR, the coordinating Fraunhofer ISC, CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), BRGM (French Geological Survey), Université de Bordeaux, Université de Lorraine and KU Leuven. By pooling expertise in the fields of exploration, mining, processing, manufacturing and recycling plus predictive modelling, the institute will generate focused international cooperation and offer comprehensive advice to use lithium in a sustainable, responsible and economically sensible way.

Another relevant and rare material for batteries is graphite. There is a booming demand due to electrical vehicles and graphite will remain the main material for the next decades. However, natural graphite is critical in many countries such as Europe, the USA or Australia. Recycling companies currently not recovering graphite. Therefore, it becomes waste or is used as a reductant agent during the recycling process. Anna Vanderbruggen, PhD-student at HIF, has taken on that challenge of graphite recycling and recently presented her findings at the International Congress for Battery Recycling (ICBR). ICBR is the international platform for reviewing the challenges faced by the Battery Recycling Industry on a global basis and discussing the European battery directive from the European Commission. Anna gave a talk on the “Recovery of graphite from spent lithium ion batteries” and explained how graphite could be recycled by using froth flotation. Froth flotation is a well-established and efficient ore processing technique for separating ore from gangue minerals within sizes ranging from about 10 to 200 µm. The process is based on the selective hydrophobisation of ore minerals in a pulp and the attachment of these particles onto gas bubbles, which are then removed in a froth. That is why particle surface properties as well as other particle properties such as particle size and morphology are fundamental separation features in froth flotation. Adding a froth flotation stage allows the joint recovery of the metals and the graphite.