From this year, Lithium batteries should account for more than 90% of the market for car batteries (integrated into hybrid and electric vehicles). The ability to recycle the batteries will partly determine whether electric cars will be an economic and ecological success.
Long before the market for electric cars started up, researchers started to work on how to recycle lithium batteries. Unlike other metals such as cobalt, lithium is not currently recycled: however, each battery contains several kilos of lithium. At LEPMI, Lenka Svecova, lecturer at Phelma, is working in partnership with CEA LITEN on a method for recovering the lithium contained in the batteries. The technique consists of solubilising then successively separating the metal by precipitation by playing on the pH through ion exchange resins and liquid-liquid extraction. In addition to the ecological aspect of the operation, recycling the lithium could eventually be of economic interest, explains the researcher. Although we do not currently know the current stocks of the metal or the future need for it, some specialists suggest that there will be a shortage of lithium, which could warrant its recovery during the recycling of the batteries. Of course, the techniques being developed will only be valid if they have little or no impact on the environment (the use of acids, toxic releases or energy-intensive processes). As a result, once the method has been developed, we will evaluate the potential impacts in collaboration with G-SCOP. The method will then have to be incorporated into an industrial process. The ideas was to pre-empt the development of the WEEE directive - which requires manufacturers of electric and electronic products to cover the costs of collecting and treating their end-of-life products - in other sectors. In parallel with this research, Lenka Svecova chairs an eco-design course on assessing the life cycle and recycling of products at Phelma.