ReLieVe: an innovative process for recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles

The energy transition will never be realized without an automobile that is perfectly integrated into the circular economy. With strong growth in the electric vehicle market, finding a way to recycle used batteries will be the main challenge. With the support of two universities, Eramet, BASF, and SUEZ have joined forces to develop a new process for recycling lithium-ion batteries.

ReLieVe (which stands for Recycling of Li-ion batteries for Electric Vehicles) is a collaborative research and innovation project whose goal is to develop an innovative process for recycling lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. The idea is also to produce these new batteries in Europe and to build an industrial sector integrated from end to end—from the collection and dismantlement of the batteries at the end of their useful life, to the recycling of their components, to the production of new electrode materials.

ReLieVe began in January 2020 and will conclude in December 2021. With a budget of 4.7 million euros—more than 60% of which was financed by EIT-Raw Materials, a body of the European Union—the project was spearheaded by a consortium of five partners, including three industry players that collectively cover the entire battery value chain. This makes for an efficient and integrated approach, as each company is a leader in its respective industry and ideally positioned along this value chain:

  • SUEZ, for the collection and dismantlement of the batteries at the end of their useful life
  • Eramet, for the development of the recycling process
  • BASF, for the production of the active cathode materials

The project also enjoys the support of research teams from Chimie ParisTech and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The challenge: closed-loop recycling

ReLieVe is developing a large-scale version of an innovative, “closed-loop” process for recycling lithium-ion batteries. In contrast to more conventional processes, this one will recycle metals while retaining their physical and chemical qualities, so that they may be re-used in the design of a new lithium-ion battery cathode.

From an environmental perspective, the challenge is two-fold: first, to develop a process that has the smallest possible environmental impact—and carbon impact, in particular—and second, to maximize the number of lithium-ion components that can be recycled.

Work performed during the project

The project is divided into three major and interconnected workstreams:

  1. The first workstream will be to thoroughly evaluate the best way to collect, dismantle, sort, and discharge the lithium-ion cells. A general evaluation will also be performed by SUEZ to assess the added value of the automation tools.
  2. The purpose of the second workstream will be to scale-up the closed-loop process, in order to design a flexible recycling unit that will adjust how it treats the materials based on the chemical properties of the lithium-ion batteries and the chemical qualities expected for the end products (thanks to the combined expertise of Eramet and Chimie ParisTech). This will require intelligent management using modeling tools developed with the support of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
  3. Finally, the last workstream will concern the qualification of lithium-ion precursors, both for pre-existing materials such as nickel sulfate, as well as new products that could be used in the production of cathodes (thanks to BASF).

As with every project financed by EIT-Raw Materials, an economic study will be conducted to define the most optimal business model needed to achieve the European Union’s circular economy goals.