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Environmentally Friendly Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Technology

Recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) has become a necessity to remediate the economic and environmental impacts caused by the tremendous growth of this technology. High energy density LIBs contain large quantities of high-value metals such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese, for which there is limited domestic U.S. supply. At present, recycling is mainly limited to portable batteries since there are no significant volumes of waste electric vehicle batteries that have reached their end-of-life. However, it is expected that by 2030, 11 million tons of LIBs from electric vehicles will 

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reach their end of service life. Therefore, the recovery of high-value metals from spent LIBs offers a great opportunity to establish a viable competitive and domestic supply chain. Traditional pyrometallurgical LIB recycling methods, that rely on high temperature smelting processes, are very energy-intensive and can generate emissions of toxic gases that need to be mitigated. Alternatively, low-temperature hydrometallurgical processes use chemical leaching to extract the metals from the electrode active components and they generate higher purity materials. However, this treatment involves the use of aqueous solutions containing strong inorganic acids and reducing chemicals to dissolve the metals, which are hazardous to humans and the environment. 

Wasatch Ionics is working in the development of an environmentally friendly hydrometallurgical process alternative that uses a new type of “green solvents”, called Deep Eutectic Solvents (DESs). DESs have the ability of extracting and reducing transitional metal oxides in a single processing step at low temperatures. These solvents can be easily synthesized from non-toxic, biodegradable, and inexpensive raw materials. In addition, DESs are liquid electrolytes with wide electrochemical windows, which enable the selective recovery of the metals by electrodeposition. Wasatch Ionics has demonstrated that selected DES solvents can reach up to 99% cobalt and nickel extraction efficiencies from multiple cathode LIB materials such as NMC111, NMC 811, and LCO.

Wasatch Ionics full hydrometallurgical lithium-ion battery recycling scheme enabled by Deep Eutectic Solvents

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Our company has partnered with a computational chemistry group, led by Dr. Johannes Hachmann at the University at Buffalo-SUNY, to design and screen out the most promising DES candidates for this LIBs recycling application.

Wasatch Ionics has received a U.S. Department of Energy Phase I SBIR grant to advance this technology to the next stage of development.

Novel Miniature Reserve Batteries on the Chip

The U.S. Army has an increasing need for microscale reserve battery systems that can be integrated into electronic devices, sensors, and other power-consuming components of munitions. These micro-battery systems must be able to operate in the harshest outdoor environments over a wide temperature range, be ready on very short notice with fast activation times, and must have extremely long shelf lives.

In collaboration with the U.S. Army, Wasatch Ionics is working towards the development of a scalable reserve micro-battery architecture using Direct Ink Writing (DIW) and other advanced additive manufacturing techniques. DIW can fabricate complex 3D objects via digitally controlled deposition of solvent-based inks directly onto a substrate with microscale precision. A significant advantage of this 3D printing approach is that it enables the implementation of very different types of primary and rechargeable battery chemistries, simply by modifying the composition of the active components of the inks. The reserve microbattery device incorporates a proprietary superhydrophobic structured membrane that keeps the battery in the inactive state by separating the electrolyte from the electrodes by capillary forces. Quick battery activation can be accomplished by inertially or electrically changing the wetting state of the electrolyte on top of the membrane, and therefore allowing the liquid electrolyte to move through the separator to come in contact with the battery active electrodes. This architecture is highly compatible with the implementation of power management features, where individual batteries or groups of them can be activated on demand and be arranged in different electrical configurations.

Fabrication of micro-battery by Direct Ink Writing

Reserve micro-battery grid configuration concept developed by Wasatch Ionics

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Micro-battery prototype fabricated by Direct Ink Writing with electrolyte encapsulation

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