Tesla is committed to becoming more environmentally friendly, both in its operations and in making its products greener. The new patent, “Process for recovering materials from spent rechargeable lithium batteries,” will help achieve this, while bringing great savings in material reuse.
Rechargeable lithium batteries are a very popular type of battery. Demand for them has exploded in recent years, especially with the rapid growth of the electric vehicle (EV) market. The main components of batteries include the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. During charge and discharge cycles, lithium ions move between anode and cathode inactive materials through the electrolyte. In recent years, high-capacity nickel-rich cathode materials have gained market share in those batteries targeted at the electric vehicle market. This trend is expected to continue into the next decade.
Given the expected phenomenal growth of the electric vehicle market and consequently the huge demand for the above cathode materials, the production of rechargeable lithium batteries may be limited in the future by the global shortage of key elements (e.g., Ni, Co, and Li), especially associated with unstable geopolitical situations. Tesla believes that battery recycling will play a critical role in supplying a portion of critical materials.
In addition, spent rechargeable lithium batteries are considered environmentally dangerous and flammable, so it is very important that they be recycled. To date, none of Tesla's scrapped lithium-ion batteries goes to landfills; they are 100% recycled. However, Tesla continues to look for ways to recycle them in the best possible way, and the most important point here is the efficient extraction of useful materials that can be reused in the production of new batteries.
Most of the research and development in the field of recycling and regeneration of rechargeable lithium batteries has been focused on acid leaching technologies, but the purity of the recycled cathode materials is declining. In addition, downstream processes also require costly systems to treat waste liquid effluents before they can be discarded into the environment. This creates a huge environmental footprint in the life cycle of electric vehicle batteries, and Tesla is aiming to significantly reduce this.
On December 21, 2021, Tesla filed a patent for “Process for recovering materials from spent rechargeable lithium batteries,” which was published on June 30, 2022. It describes a method for recovering valuable materials from spent rechargeable lithium batteries, especially batteries with nickel-based cathodes. In particular, the proposed method relates to the production of substantially pure materials that can be reused as starting materials in the manufacture of cathode active materials for new rechargeable lithium batteries.
© 2022, Eva Fox | Tesmanian. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.