Onwards to greener batteries

A three-part series about the themes that intrigued some of the The Circular Economy of Batteries -conference participants starts today. The first part is written by Omar Velazquez, a doctoral candidate at Aalto University. 

The Circular Economy of Batteries (CEB18) conference took place this year in the second biggest city of Sweden, Gothenburg. The event took place from the 23th to 26th of September 2018 in the Lindholmen Conference Centre. This first edition hosted 60 speakers, 200 attendees, and exposed 12 posters from researchers from all around the globe.

CEB2018 presented a 360° view of batteries, from the manufacturing process (shown step-by-step), actual technologies of materials, developments on recycling technologies, and, the industrial input to achieve a future free of carbon emissions. A multi-front global effort from academia and industry, from Mexico to Finland, to extend the life of these products was clearly present during the entire duration of the conference. Nevertheless, the major object of research span around Lithium-ion Batteries (LIB), alkaline batteries were as well mentioned. This type of batteries is now a days a hot topic as it was mentioned, there is an accelerated increase on demand and production of these due to new environmental regulations, advance in mobile technologies, and, their high energy reliability. Consequently, by disposing LIB as waste instead of treating them is jeopardizing great amounts of extractable material.

Recovery of raw material from LIB was among the most remarked topic among the 60 presentations. They are an important source of resources, by recycling them we prevent exploitation of mineral natural deposits. In addition, developments on the grounds of material were presented. For instance, using of algae as separator, and, developing tailored electrolyte additives to improve electric conductivity. These, among other topics were in the section of Materials. In the largest section of the conference, Recycling and Resources, there were interesting proposals and positions, for instance extraction of lithium from brine in China. I presented my, so far, achievements in my doctoral studies. Where we propose to improve processing by including a probabilistic model.

Jan Tytgat from the company Umicore exposed a recovery of all the components in a LIB, while mentioning that recovery should be addressed in such way that the recovered material could be re-introduced into the loop of batteries. Otherwise, we would be leaving a gap in the product life of a battery. Nevertheless, battery recycling still presents challenges, which require more than just engineering or technological solutions. These regard the call-back scheme, in simple words, how to retrieve from every household, office, and/or, building all the batteries suitable for recycling. During CEB18, only one expositor presented their national developments, which contribute in this matter. Personally, I think there is few new efforts focused in this major issue, and is should be the other way around. For, this urban mining is the fuel for all those new technological developments; it is these efforts, which bring the raw material, and makes the first step into closing the loop of batteries.

Finally, I must add, that I concur with Jan’s statement and with the purpose of this conference. It is coherent to recover the material in a form, which could be re-introduced into the loop of the product it is coming from, either it is a LIB, alkaline battery or any other product. Indeed, this topic is utterly important for the global economy, but above it, to stop global climate change, reduce emissions coming from the source, mining operations. Thus mining of natural reserves, as important as it is, might never stop; however, these actions are endowed to reduce their impact.

My name is Omar Velazquez, to this date I am a doctoral candidate at Aalto University researching the optimization of battery and electric waste recycling, and I am adding my share to achieve a circular economy.

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