The use of electric or hybrid cars helps limit air pollution. However, there remains one major problem with the use of these vehicles: their battery. Indeed, the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries is significant.
A recently released report reveals that by 2025, electric and hybrid cars will capture 90% of the lithium-ion battery market. It is therefore important to find a way to recycle these batteries to limit their impact on the environment. Swedish company Northvolt, which was founded in 2016 by two former Tesla executives, is proposing to do so.
An ambitious project
Northvolt is actively working on this recycling project. The Swedish company is currently carrying out experiments at a battery factory in Västerås, a small town in central Sweden. It tries to prove that it is possible to recycle batteries from electric or hybrid cars on a large scale.
Few people dare to venture into this field because of the complexity of the operation. “There are lithium, nickel, manganese, graphite and cobalt, all wrapped in steel, alloy and plastic. “The risk of explosion or fire is extremely high, explains the Wired site.
Northvolt proposes to use recycling, known as “hydrometallurgical”. This process makes it possible to recover the lithium. Before getting to this step, you must first disassemble the battery to crush its cells in a vacuum. Next comes the sorting phase which will separate the metal components from the liquid electrolyte. All that will be left is a black powder containing manganese, nickel, cobalt, lithium hydroxide and graphite. The hydrometallurigic treatment will separate and recover these components.
25,000 tonnes of batteries recycled in 2022
Once this recycling technique is developed, Northvolt will develop its own batteries using recycled components. Swedish society still has a ways to go before it gets to this point. As Emma Nehrenheim, environmental manager at Northvolt, points out, recycling lithium-ion batteries takes a lot of time and money.
Removing batteries from an electric car. Photo credit: Shutterstock / Roman Zaiets
Currently, the company is building Europe’s largest battery factory in Skellefteå, in northern Sweden. If all goes as planned, this plant will be operational in 2021. The future Northvolt plant will have to produce the equivalent of 32 GWh of capacity per year. Once it is in place, the Swedish company hopes to recycle 25,000 tonnes of batteries each year.