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Rapid Japanese solution to match EV growth

Japanese start-up Emulsion Flow Technologies (ETF) says its innovative extraction process for recovering battery metals is ‘100 times faster’ than traditional solutions.

The new method is claimed to retrieve cobalt, nickel and other battery metals with 99.99% purity which means they can be used directly to make new batteries, according to ETF’s chief technology officer Hirochika Naganawa. His team is currently working on commercialising the process, which is being seen as a potential game-changer for the booming e-mobility industry.

Naganawa explains that an emulsion, a frothy blend of oil and water, is vital to the breakthrough. A watery solution on tiny droplets of oil carries away cobalt, nickel and the other metals. Uniformly shaped droplets coalesce quickly, allowing the metals to be collected.

Conventional methods using emulsions typically rely on a three-step process of mixing, settling and separating the liquids. EFT’s approach requires only one step, making it more cost-efficient. An added benefit is that the smart recycling system is linked to the Internet-of-Things enabling a 24-hour automatic operation, notably reducing staffing costs.

Naganawa says it was a ‘lucky accident’ that came up with a solution for lithium-ion batteries. His research, kicked off at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was initially focussed on separating specific elements from spent nuclear fuel.

ETF’s R&D efforts won 80 million Yen (around EUR 600 000) in funding from Real Tech Fund operated by Real Tech Holdings. Now the company is pursuing rare earth metals in lithium-ion batteries and magnets, citing expected supply shortages around 2025.

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