E-mobility is booming and this rapidly increases the demand for lithium batteries. However, there is one downfall when it comes to electric vehicles: The manufacturing of batteries is resource - intensive and recycling of the materials is still in its infancy. However, we did find a solution to this problem. On September 4, we commissioned our in-house lithium-ion battery recycling facility – the first of its kind in Switzerland. Together with certification and research institution Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and the Zurich University for Applied Science, we developed a process that enables us to retrieve 91% of the material from the battery.
From bachelor thesis to pioneer project
Our electric three - wheel scooter is deployed around the world – including to the Swiss Post. Previously, the batteries of these vehicles had been recycled at an external facility using a common process – which we found not to meet our sustainability standards. The batteries are shredded and then melted again or treated with chemicals. Both are highly energy - intensive: While during the heat process valuable resources are lost, the cold treatment pollutes the environment.
We were looking for an alternative. Our goal was to develop a recycling process that is efficient, environmentally friendly as well as safe. It all started with a bachelor thesis and developing a completely new process breaking down lithium-phosphate batteries into its components and clearing those with water. This was the baseline and start of implementing an in-house recycling facility at KYBURZ.
Potential for different battery types
The long-term goal is a production facility that fully recycles all KYBURZ LiFePO4-batteries. Starting from around 4.000 cells per year, the goal is to reach 24.000 cells recycled annually – enough to power 3.000 e-vehicles.
In a first step, the LiFePO4 batteries are discharged to 2.5 Volt and broken down into their components. The cathodes and anodes are then treated with water to separate the aluminum and copper foil. In the next step, lithium-ions are distilled form the electrolytes and then re-inserted in the recycling process. The anodes are additionally treated with heat to break down binders.
The process has potential beyond our own production facilities. The process is fully applicable to a majority of battery systems in residential storage applications. Integrating selected chemicals into the process enables the recycling of other lithium battery types such as lithium-nickel-cobalt-mangan batteries (NMC) or lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries (NCA). These are used in most of the electric vehicles – from cars to bicycles and scooters.
Watch the first three steps of the process here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YlIQ9fUnmk&feature=youtu.be
Commented video here (German language): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HL6xscxzEJ8
Author: Olivier Groux, Project Manager Development at KYBURZ