The LIBAT project aims at the pilot-scale demonstration of an innovative process for the recycling of primary lithium batteries (Li (0) / MnO2 batteries). The proposed process integrates a mechanical pre-treatment with a hydrometallurgical treatment in order to recover plastic materials, ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals. The project will allow to increase and reach a recycling percentage greater than 50%.
In this regard, the project directly supports the achievement of the following objective declared in article 10 of the LIFE program regulation: "Develop, test and demonstrate strategies or management approaches, solutions and best practices, including the development and demonstration of innovative technologies, relating to environmental contexts, suitable for being replicated, transferred or integrated, including the link between environment and health, and in support of policies and legislation relating to resource efficiency, including the roadmap for efficient use of resources by part of Europe ”.
Specifically, the proposed actions concern the thematic priorities relating to waste ((ii) - (iii)), air and the quality of emissions ((ii) - (iii)) indicated in Annex III of the LIFE regulation.
In Europe, the current trend is to treat primary lithium batteries at the end of their life with pyrometallurgical processes. However, these processes are based on a heat treatment, therefore they are characterized by huge energy costs and a high environmental impact (possibility of metal emissions). In order to limit the costs of these treatments, which are feasible only on a large scale, the simultaneous treatment of different types of batteries is necessary. Primary lithium batteries are then fed to pyrometallurgical processes along with other types of batteries such as alkaline-manganese batteries. The different types of batteries are characterized by remarkably different chemical compositions, which increases the difficulty of separation and the relative costs.
However, this solution is not sustainable in the long term due to the growing demand for lithium, which currently covers around 67% of global resources. The increase in applications of this material in various sectors such as the car industry would lead to a discrepancy between the demand and the resources available by 2023.
To meet the increase in market demand, lithium must therefore be recovered and recycled. The absence of a specific treatment dedicated exclusively to the recovery of primary lithium batteries motivated the LiBat Project’s research group to present the current state of the art to the EC and to propose the LiBat project.
The implementation of the designed process contributes to the objectives of the LIFE Action sub-program by reducing the CO2-eq generated in a life cycle perspective compared to that produced with pyrometallurgical processes by 20%.
According to what has been said, the implementation of the project will be essential to achieve the objectives set by the European community in terms of recovery and recycling. Next, the objectives defined by the main European directives concerning the recovery and recycling of batteries are reported, and how the LiBat process contributes to their achievement:
- Directive 2006/66 / EC repealing Directive 91/157 / EEC relating to batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators: in accordance with this directive, by 2016 member states must have reached a mandatory minimum collection quantity of end-of-life batteries equal to 45% by weight while the recycling efficiency for primary lithium batteries must be greater than 50%.
The project supports the latter objective by demonstrating the efficiency of a process that can facilitate both the collection and efficient recycling of primary lithium batteries.
- Directive 2008/98 / EC relating to waste and repealing some directives: this directive establishes that the waste policy should privilege the following order of actions: prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling, other recoveries, e.g. energy recovery and disposal.
With respect to these priorities, the project intends to demonstrate the possibility of increasing the efficiency of the recycling of primary lithium batteries thus helping to reduce the proportion of waste destined for landfill or incineration.
- Directive 1999/31 / EC on the landfill of waste: the implementation of this directive is aimed at reducing the portion of unrecovered waste destined for landfill.
The LiBat process is part of this perspective, with the aim of encouraging an optimized recycling process and therefore feeding the supply chain with secondary raw material rather than with primary materials.
- Thematic strategy COM (2005) 666 on the prevention and recycling of waste: the Libat project will directly assist the European Union in achieving the objectives set in the strategy that aims to replace fossil-based products with renewable ones - positive effects on the global warming potential (Global Warming Potential, GWP).
- Directive 2008/1 / EC relating to Integrated Control for Pollution Prevention (IPPC): the proposed process will reduce the environmental impact associated with the production of new batteries and the disposal of spent batteries through the recycling of primary lithium batteries as a secondary raw material. Furthermore, the hydrometallurgical process is less energy-intensive compared to conventional pyrometallurgical processes, thus contributing to the implementation of this directive.
- Directive 2012/27 / EU on energy efficiency: the fundamental contribution of the project is the demonstration of the possibility of reducing energy consumption per kg of recycled battery compared to conventional pyrometallurgical processes. These energy savings will be accurately analysed and quantified with the environmental impact of the proposed process through the implementation of an LCA analysis.