Hands of a chemist in gloves working with lithium carbonate in a petri dish
© Amadeus Bramsiepe / KIT
KIT researchers have developed an environment-friendly mechanochemical recycling method for used batteries.

Sustainable solutions from THE LÄND: Lithium from old batteries

KIT develops simple recycling method that allows the recovery of 70 percent of lithium from battery waste.

The energy transition plays an ever-increasing role. Baden-Württemberg, according to a German energy transition ranking from 2019 which compared efforts and successes in the use of renewable energies across all German states, came out top in the overall rating together with Schleswig-Holstein. In fact, the state including its science institutions and companies treats the energy transition as a high priority topic and makes great efforts to find new energy saving solutions.  A recent example for innovative energy saving approaches from THE LÄND is a new method for recycling lithium from battery waste by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In contrast to existing methods, the new mechanochemical recycling method does not require high temperatures, corrosive chemicals, or prior sorting of materials. Therefore, it’s inexpensive, energy-efficient, and environment-friendly. Economic and ecological recycling methods are indeed needed:  Lithium-ion batteries are present in many electronic products such as smartphones and notebooks. Beyond that, they are also used in the batteries of electric cars – a rapidly growing application.

How to recover lithium from old batteries

The method works as follows: First, the battery waste is ground. Then, this material reacts with aluminium to metallic composites with water-soluble lithium compounds. Lithium is recovered by dissolving these compounds in water and subsequent heating to make the water evaporate.

Working as a senior scientist at KIT

The leader of the study, Dr. Oleksandr Dolotko, Senior scientist at KIT´s Institute of Applied Materials Energy Storage Systems (IAM-EES), explains why he appreciates working at KIT:

“KIT has an esteemed reputation, particularly in energy storage materials. At KIT, I am fortunate to collaborate with some of the leading specialists in this domain. Their wealth of experience and profound knowledge serves as an unparalleled reservoir of learning and growth. Overall, the work at KIT provides a fusion of intellectual stimulation and the satisfaction of contributing to advancements in technology.”

The invigorating scientific environment, collaborative ethos, and high quality of technological resources are further features that he enjoys at KIT, one of Germany’s leading technical universities. A whole interview with Dr. Dolotko about being a researcher in Baden-Württemberg can be read here.

A science-industry collaboration

Taking a closer look at the players that were involved in developing the method, a characteristic feature of Baden-Württemberg’s research landscape becomes clear: Industry and research cooperate closely to find innovative solutions for the future. For the study, the Energy Storage Systems Department of KIT’s Institute for Applied Materials (IAM-ESS) worked together with the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU) and EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG – an energy supply company. The HIU in turn was established by KIT and Ulm University.

About KIT:

KIT, one of the leading technical universities of Germany, is one of nine German Excellence Universities and offers over 100 research-based study programs.

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Author: Janet Ghotoyian