DRONE is a LIFE project aimed at demonstrating the environmental and economic feasibility of an innovative process for the recycling of different types of lithium-ion batteries and the construction of new NMC batteries without the need to separate metals individually.
Lithium batteries recycling and traditional treatments
The application of batteries has been steadily increasing over the past two decades driven by the growing market of consumer electronics. More than 225,000 tons portable batteries were placed on the market in 2016. A pivotal role in this field is played by lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are the most popular electric energy storage technology, with an amount placed on the EU market of 75000 tons in 2015 and expected to grow by ten times within 2025.
Driven by the clean energy transition, the European Commission (EC) adopted in 2018 the strategic action plan for batteries, a set of concrete measures to develop a sustainable and competitive battery 'ecosystem'. This plan emphasizes the need for efficient recycling processes of End-of-Life(EoL) batteries which are abundant in the EU, and the production of high performance materials for batteries at competitive prices. In particular, electrodes materials including strategic or critical raw materials such as graphite, cobalt, nickel and manganese, which account for more than 50% of the battery cost, need to be recovered from EU resources and recycled into the batteries manufacturing chain.
The recycle of batteries within the EU area is currently regulated by the Directive 2006/66/EC, which fixes a 45% mandatory collection rate and 50% recycling efficiency for Li-ion batteries. Barely attained by member states, these targets are incompatible with the demand of raw materials and the risk of environment contamination.
Traditional process for battery recycling vs Life DRONE process
A major bottleneck hindering the recovery of batteries materials at large scale today is the elevated cost of implemented recycling processes. The current pyro or hydrometallurgical recycling processes are costly as they adopt a strategy to separate and recover high-purity metals from the complex feedstock of different Li-ion battery types with different chemistry, each requiring the optimal and frequent adjustment of the parameters of the recycling plant.
The LIFE DRONE projects aims to demonstrate a novel recycling route for different EoL lithium ion battery types showing significantly lower processing cost (-75%) and better environmental impact as compared to the alternative state of the art processes (i.e. pyro or hydro), as well as an increased recovery yield (90%).