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German university takes a deep dive into battery metals

Researchers at the University of Münster in Germany have published a comprehensive review of dry shredded lithium-ion battery recycling material to help boost the recovery of this waste stream. As a result, they have produced a toolkit for the analysis of complex samples.

Since its commercialisation three decades ago, the lithium-ion battery has been a key technology to achieve digitalisation in the 21st century with popular applications including consumer electronics and e-mobility. Improving recycling solutions and regulations will play an important role in reducing the footprint of manufacturing while securing a circular deposit of valuable metals such as nickel and cobalt, the researchers write in their newly published paper.

At the root of best practice is building a better understanding of battery recycling, they say. ‘Elemental analysis of the starting material is needed to calculate recycling rates of targeted elements and possible impurities over the process,’ they note. ‘With possible battery lives of up to 15 years, the return flow of spent batteries will not represent state-of-the-art materials but various cell chemistries from more than a decade ago.’

Organic speciation via chromatography-based methods was applied allowing conclusions to be drawn regarding electrolyte and binder aging history. Long-term cyclic aging of the material was proven by different examples.

The University of Münster also obtained data to enable evaluation of challenging aspects of recycling such as safety and contamination by sulphur containing materials. ‘Comprehensive analysis combined the advantages of gas and liquid chromatography, as well as extraction and pyrolysis methods for maximised information output,’ the team concludes.

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