Car battery recycling market gears up for future boom – EQ Mag
BERLIN: Researcher Anna Vanderbruggen peers into a vat of dark bubbling liquid, the result of a process she has developed to recover graphite from old lithium-ion batteries.
Although graphite represents up to a quarter of the weight of the batteries, no one has yet come up with a viable plan to recycle it, according to Vanderbruggen.
The 29-year-old researcher is still fine-tuning her method but has already received an award from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology for her efforts.
As Europe shifts gears from fossil fuel vehicles to electrified cars, recycling graphite as well as other elements in batteries is gradually becoming a major focus.
All the more so as the continent seeks to wean itself off its reliance on countries like China for raw materials.
“Battery manufacturers were not interested” in recycled graphite up until now because “they could get it at a low cost in China”, Vanderbruggen told AFP.
Her method developed at the Helmholtz Research Institute in Freiberg, Germany, involves extracting graphite from “black mass”, a powder that also contains cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese.
“You put the black mass in water and add some chemicals and air bubbles, like in a jacuzzi,” Vanderbruggen, who is from France, said.
“The graphite attaches itself to the bubbles, whereas the metals are hydrophilic and therefore remain in the water.”
Vanderbruggen also works as a consultant for businesses exploring the opportunities that recycling electric car batteries could bring in the future.
Increasing raw material costs and shortages have led to a surge of interest in the field.
The price of lithium has increased by 13% over the past five years, according to Philippe Barboux, a professor of chemistry at PSL University in Paris.