With the aim of exploring the application of direct lithium extraction technologies for for lithium-ion battery recycling streams, a collaboration between the Department of Chemical Engineering, NTNU, Norsk Hydro, and Equinor has culminated in a literature review and subsequent assessment of the sustainability of the current direct lithium extraction (DLE) technologies.

Lithium (Li) demand is projected to increase manyfolds by 2030 and supply from secondary sources (recycled materials) is expected to play a critical role. According to a recent European Commission report, current end of life recycling input rate of Li is 0%. In order to meet the future demand, EU has passed a new directive imposing Li recycling of 50% and 80% in 2027 and 2031 from batteries, respectively. Instead of developing technology from scratch, DLE processes, used in primary Li production, may be employed for recycling Li from the recycling streams of electric vehicles lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).

Pretreatment options

Prior to the DLE proceesses, electric vehicles LIBs must undergo a pretreatment process.  Four pretreatment process routes were considered:

1. Dry crushing & sorting followed by froth flotation
2. Wet crushing & sorting followed by froth flotation
3. Pyrolysis of whole module followed by dry crushing & sorting and froth flotation
4. Wet crushing & sorting followed by pyrolysis of the black mass and froth flotation

The Li recoveries and losses were calculated for each of them. It was found that Processs 3: pyrolyzing the whole cells or module followed by dry crushing and flotation, was the pretreatment route that minimized Li losses. This was in part due to valorization of electrode materials from the collector foils minimizing crushing loss. In addition, the reduction of cathode active material enables the Li to be easily leached by water washing the black mass, crushed battery powder <500µm, or dissolve into flotation water.

DLE options

The most promising available DLE technologies are based on: solvent extraction, sorption (adsorption and ion exchange), membranes or electrochemical separation. The DLEs were rated on eight different parameters based on the technical aspects of these processes and materials. In addition, recommendations where made on the suitability of each DLE as a function of the Li concentration in the feed stream.

Future work

The incorporation of DLE has the potential to minimize Li losses in the process. However, various DLE methods may be required to recover Li in different steps of the recycling process. Even though the recommendations to use different DLEs based on calculated streams in the recycling process have been based on literature have been identified, it is proposed to validate them experimentally. This is particularly relevant for: Reverse osmosis membranes, sorption with Mn and Fe based adsorbents, ion exchange resins, and solvent extraction.


The full report is available for MoZEES members on Teams!