The extensive application of portable energy storage units fostered by technological innovation has determined a rapid increase in the volume of batteries annually placed on the market. Around 211,000 tons of portable batteries were placed on the market in the EEA area, plus Switzerland, in 2013. This trend and the short lifetime of batteries have imposed the disposal of a progressively increasing flux of end-of-life batteries. In this framework, central issue is represented by the development of processes allowing for the recovery of material from end-of-life batteries. This strategy can reduce the environmental impact of the battery production cycle by preventing the dispersion of the battery hazardous elements (heavy metals) into the environment and, at the same time, providing an alternative material source to the battery manufacture chain.
In accordance with EU Directive 2006/66/EC, which currently regulate the disposal and recycle of batteries, 65%, 75% and 50% (by weight) recycling efficiencies must be achieved by processing of lead, nickel-cadmium and other batteries, respectively.
Around 70% of portable batteries placed on the EU market are non-rechargeable (primary). In this market segment, primary lithium batteries exhibit characteristics that impose significant recycling difficulties. These are mainly determined by the presence of metallic lithium (non-oxidized metal form Li(0)) which can, when warm, react exothermically with oxygen, nitrogen and water and must therefore be appropriately handled and/or deactivated prior recycling to remove the risk of flames and/or explosions.
LIBAT project is aimed at the demonstration of an innovative process for the recycling of primary Li batteries (Li(0)/MnO2 batteries). The proposed process integrates mechanical pre-treatment with a hydrometallurgical treatment route to recover plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals. In agreement with the EU Directive 2006/66/EC, a material recycling efficiency greater 50% is targeted. Compared to alternative recycling technologies, the proposed process allows separately recovering lithium and manganese products. The process will be demonstrated by the construction and operation of pilot plant with processing capacity of 50 kg of batteries per day.