Recycling batteries reduces the need to extract new raw materials, such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt. It also provides a safer supply of materials and lowers environmental impacts, as mining-related emissions can be reduced. Martina Petranikova works as a research assistant at the Department of Chemistry and, together with Cristian Tunsu, has led Chalmers’ collaboration with Northvolt.
What quantity of the valuable metals in a battery is now recyclable?
“With our technology we have reached an efficiency of over 90-95 percent. However, our research in this topic will continue since we want to reach even higher recycling recovery rates for all the components.”
Is there any price difference in recycling metals compared to mining new ones?
“The cost of mining new metals and recycling is fairly similar. The difference is that metals in waste are much more concentrated, so much less processing and transport is required. In addition, the waste treatment is less energy demanding than the treatment of the ores.”
Is there any limit to how many times the metal in a lithium-ion battery can be recycled?
“No, there is not. An amazing characteristic of these metals is that if they are recovered and purified, they will not lose their properties and can be re-used again and again.”
The pilot plant, located in Västerås, will serve as a platform for developing and evaluating recycling processes. Initially, 100 tonnes per year are expected to be recycled. Two years later, in 2022, a full-scale recycling plant at Northvolt Ett gigafactory in northern Sweden will be ready, with a capacity to recycle a full 25,000 tonnes per year. As logistics and capacity increase, Northvolt aims to have their batteries made of 50 per cent recycled materials by 2030.
What challenges do you see in recycling as much as 68.5 tonnes per day?
“There should not be any challenges with the recycling. There might be some challenges in collecting so much material in the coming years, but that will change in the future.”
What is the next step in the collaboration with Northvolt?
“We will continue in our collaboration and we will provide the support needed for Northvolt to scale up their recycling lines. We really appreciate our co-operation with Northvolt and we are proud that our expertise in hydrometallurgy, and particularly in solvent extraction, has been utilised for such a unique project. Chalmers strives for sustainability, and our research has contributed to improved sustainability in Sweden and the Nordic region.
Read Northvolt's press release
Read more about the Chalmers researchers who solve Northvolt's supply of raw materials (in Swedish)
Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg