Battery materials & recycling

Battery metal scraps on band
The future needs metals.

Metals are ever-present in our daily lives and are determinant for the technological advancement that humanity is pursuing right now: the energetical transition, smart infrastructure, electro mobility and digital transformation are only some of the areas where metals serve as a cornerstone, propelling innovation and shaping our society’s future.
This increasing global demand is confronted by the finite nature of metals. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to use not only raw metals, but also already processed metals, responsibly. Metal recycling is thriving as a solution to metal scarcity and dependency on imports, plus it reduces the environmental and energetical impact generated by metal extraction while enabling the reduction of CO2 emissions. 
Metal recycling means raw material security and environmental protection.

As drivers of the energetical transition, multi-metal or battery recycling plants play a determinant role into securing availability of mineral raw materials that are both strategically important and highly demanded by keeping them away from the landfills and reducing the need for importing them. 
Most non-ferrous metals and precious metals have an outstanding recyclability -this means that once extracted, the recycling of copper, lithium, cobalt, nickel and other non-ferrous metals doesn’t translate into quality loss or alteration of their properties. 
A particular challenge in metal recycling is that the end products -from where the metals need to be extracted- are becoming more and more complex and therefore must undergo a laborious preparation process that regularly involves the pyrometallurgical treatment often followed by a hydrometallurgical one. 
E-scrap – a gold mine in the trash.

The process of recycling metal from Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) begins with sampling, followed by a material preparation step. Depending on consistency and composition, the raw materials are then either crushed, treated in a material preparation plant or directly conditioned into input mixtures. Then different pyrometallurgical processes smelting and converting follow. 
At the copper recycling process for example, the pyrometallurgical process ends with a high-purity copper which is cast into copper anodes.  Besides a second stream of a variety of recycling materials rich in precious metals, this is usually the starting product for the final refining stage of secondary copper production, the copper refining process, where high-grade copper cathodes are produced.
Giving lithium-ion batteries a second life 

After around a decade of use, a lithium-ion battery is no longer suitable for its original purpose. However, the battery still contains valuable materials such as lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel that can be recovered for their reuse in the production of new batteries. 
To recycle lithium-ion batteries, they are first discharged and disassembled to undergo a mechanical process that enables the recovery of plastics, aluminum, copper and black mass, else, they can be treated with pyrometallurgical processes such as pyrolysis and smelting. The batteries’ black mass, containing critical metals, is collected and taken for hydrometallurgical processing. Other recovered materials are recycled in separate processes.


GEA’s contribution to multi-metal recycling plants

Each recycling process generates off-gas and exhaust air that needs to be treated to avoid contributing to greenhouse gases emissions and comply with environmental standards. The pollutants in the primary off gas are usually cleaned through electrostatic precipitators and gas scrubbers, however, depending on the contaminants, recycling plants often requires special or additional gas cleaning equipment to further reduce the sulfur, halogen and NOx content to meet emissions limits.
Principle flow diagram of typical Circular Economy gas cleaning plant

Principle flow diagram of a typical gas cleaning plant customized for recycling furnaces’ off-gases.

  • Decades of experience in non-ferrous applications with acid process gases.
  • Portfolio covering a huge range of required proven gas cleaning technologies.
  • Profound know-how in tailored gas cleaning solutions.
  • Solid SCR and WHR know-how & inhouse technologies advancement.
  • Proven track record of successful projects and market recognition on halide removal and DeSOx scrubber technologies.


How GEA contributes to battery recycling plants

Hydrometallurgy is the most common method to extract and separate metals contained in li-ion batteries’ black mass. The process consists of an initial leaching of black mass in an acid to allow minerals to be solubilized and separated from the carbon.

Afterwards, the metals in solution are either precipitated by pH variation or extracted from each other using organic solvents. Once metals have been extracted into a solution, they are selectively crystallized as battery grade salts.
Hydrometallurgic process
  • Over a century of evaporation, crystallization and drying expertise.
  • Deep know-how of the hydrometallurgical process.
  • We design and fabricate centrifugal separators, evaporators and crystallizers suitable for all process steps of the recycle process.
  • Our Equipment is shop- or field- fabricated to ASME, ANSI, AS, PED and ASTM specifications.
  • GEA installations are always closely supervised by our experts.
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