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New solution for lithium recovery from electric cars

Researchers in China have discovered a new way to extract lithium from used lithium iron phosphate batteries. The innovative process generates Li3PO4, which can be sold at a profit to battery manufacturers.

Tsinghua University in Beijing believes mechano-chemical solid-phase oxidation offers the rapid extraction of 99.7% of lithium from the cathode materials of spent lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. This technology is one of the main methods for producing nanomaterials.

The advantages of this approach are that the extracted material is acid-free, the process can be completed in the ‘extremely short time’ of five minutes, and it does not produce wastewater. It also generates three new chemical products, offering a significant financial incentive to recycle car batteries.  

Recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of lithium batteries over nickel- and cobalt-based alternatives for extending the range of electric vehicles via thermal modulation, observes researcher Kang Liu. But existing recycling solutions in this area remain limited and are not considered to be sufficiently sustainable.

‘For example, pyrometallurgy may require a high reaction temperature, and involves high energy consumption and flue gas release,’ Kang explains. ‘Hydrometallurgy requires acid–base reagents and may produce wastewater containing heavy metals. Research into bio-metallurgy is still in the scientific research stage.’ 

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