Lithium-ion batteries use various metals, such as lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and aluminum. Mining these metals can be environmentally damaging. Some of them, like lithium and cobalt, are available only in limited quantities – so widespread usage of lithium-ion batteries is likely to drive up their prices. What’s more, they are often toxic and can contaminate soil and groundwater if they end up in landfills at the end of their life.

Lithium-ion battery recycling can keep this toxic waste out of landfills, in addition to providing more raw materials to build a sustainable battery value chain. But to be recycled, the batteries’ chemistry must first be evaluated. To help you unlock commercially viable recycling options, our X-ray-based solutions can help provide these insights into the chemistry of your used batteries.

How can I efficiently recover metals from recycled batteries?

Once batteries have been pre-processed and treated, the two main methods to recover their valuable metals are pyrometallurgy, which relies on high heat, and hydrometallurgy, which uses chemicals. More efficient recycling techniques often involve hybrid approaches combining both pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. 

However, reaching this stage in lithium-ion battery (LIB) recycling can be challenging – partly because LIBs are not all the same. Specifically, cathode materials in LIBs are typically composed of lithium alongside other metals such as cobalt, nickel, manganese, aluminum, and iron. Cobalt and nickel are the most common materials used in modern batteries, but other compositions are also used frequently.
 
This variable chemistry means there is often limited control over incoming types of batteries in lithium-ion battery recycling. Consequently, any pre-treatment process for battery recycling must include an evaluation of the incoming batteries’ chemistry. This is also important for accurately assessing and grade-sorting the incoming batteries. Our X-ray-based solutions can support you in this process – with both chemical composition and crystalline phase analysis.

Chemical composition: X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is an alternative to inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectroscopy. It can analyze chemical composition changes and impurities in anode and cathode materials – from only a few ppm all the way up to 100%.

Indeed, for major elements at low percentage levels, XRF provides a simpler and more accurate way of measuring elemental composition than ICP, because it does not require any sample dilution or acid digestion. Many leading battery companies use our benchtop Epsilon 4 EDXRF or Zetium WDXRF spectrometers to analyze their cathode and precursor materials. 

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Figure 1: A typical battery sample analysis on our Epsilon 4 XRF spectrometer, from 0-100% of manganese in LFMP samples. The Omnian standardless requires no standards for calibration and gives accurate results from a quick screening.   

Crystalline Phase: The battery recycling pre-treatment process may also be affected by the crystalline phase of the battery materials. And, when it comes to crystalline phase analysis, X-ray diffraction is the technique of choice. In particular, our Aeris compact X-ray diffractometer – an easy-to-use instrument with superb data quality – can be used to accurately analyze crystalline phase composition in battery materials.

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