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Scientists develop 'innovative method' of recycling EV batteries with unprecedented efficiency: 'A promising new route'

The setup looks like a kitchen mixer, or a vintage coffee percolator.

The setup looks like a kitchen mixer, or a vintage coffee percolator.

Photo Credit: Chalmers

Experts in Sweden working on a unique battery recycling technique might be mistaken as baristas at first glance. 

In short, it's because the Chalmers University of Technology team is grinding electric vehicle batteries into a black powder and filtering out valuable metals as part of a process described in the university news report as being "reminiscent" of brewing coffee. 

The report outlines the technique, which includes acid, pulverization, and filtration. The end result, per the experts, is an efficient and planet-friendly recycling breakthrough that reduces waste. 

It's important research, as the growing demand for batteries that power EVs and other tech fuel the search for the crucial metals (lithium, cobalt, and nickel, for example) needed to make it all work. 

"This is an innovative method that can offer the recycling industry new alternatives and help solve problems that hinder development," Chalmers chemistry associate professor Martina Petranikova said in the university report. 

Remarkably, the process results in the gathering of 100% of the aluminum, 98% of the lithium, and minimal losses of nickel, cobalt, and manganese. Those are all valuable metals that can be reused. What's more, the process doesn't use toxic chemicals. Even the acid is organic, all per Chalmers. 

The setup looks like a kitchen mixer or a vintage coffee percolator. It works by crushing battery cells into a fine, black powder. The powder is dissolved in acid. Then, the black "mixture" is put through a filter, according to the Chalmers team. The aluminum and lithium are gathered from the liquid post-filtration. The other key metals are left as solids. 

"So far, no one has managed to find exactly the right conditions for separating this much lithium using oxalic acid, whilst also removing all the aluminium," doctoral chemistry student Léa Rouquette said in the university report. "Since the metals have very different properties, we don't think it'll be hard to separate them." 

Chalmers researchers have already been working with companies, including Volvo, on battery recycling efforts. This is a big step toward a more efficient process, according to the university. 

"Our method is a promising new route for battery recycling — a route that definitely warrants further exploration," Rouquette said

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