Using alkaline leaching process on spodumene concentrate, the maximum extraction of Li achieved thus far reached 75%. The leachate transformation, even after the filtration step, hinders the sample analysis and further processing. To overcome this challenge, upcoming experiments will explore elevated temperatures, diverse additives, and further investigate the chemical precipitation process.
During the advanced solvometallurgy applied on spodumene concentrate, the research team at TECNALIA reported high Li leaching yields (>95%). Their future work will focus on the further optimisation of the operational conditions, more appropriate for the anticipated scalability phases of the process. On the other hand, solvometallurgical tests carried on waste cathode material achieved high leaching yields for all target elements (Li, Co, Ni, Mn) using mild operational parameters.
After the first experiments engaging reactive milling and aqueous leaching [treated with aluminium- (Al) and calcium (Ca) – salts] on waste cathode material, researchers at KIT reported close to 31% Li recovery rate. Samples supplied by UMICORE were leached under different conditions to extract Li – available in the form of Li carbonate [LiCO3], and further subjected to purifications processes employing various reducing agents. Future efforts for this particular task will focus on adjusting leaching temperatures, establishing an optimal purification process, and evaluating Li recoverability in both Al and Ca systems.
Anticipating future upscaling phases, researchers at VITO, working on the Li-sieve adsorption and desorption from aqueous leachates, shaped the lithium-titanium-oxide (LTO) adsorbents into spheres, which enabled dynamic testing. The team is currently optimising the flow rates for adsorption and desorption to model the optimal conditions for upcoming processes. While initial tests utilised synthetic Li solutions, upcoming research will extend to purification processes for spodumene leachates.
In the same work package, TECNALIA performed experiments using different organic solvents for the liquid/liquid (L/L) extraction from brines showing promising Li yields in the range of 40-60%.
Within the same work package, EnBW scientific team has been working on designing an eco-friendly Li-desorption process from brines, focusing on the development of novel synthesis for Mn-based adsorbent material. Notably, the successful upscaling of the synthesis process from 2,5g to 200g marks a significant achievement in sustainable material synthesis.
Finally, the last task of WP5 – Electrode-based Li adsorption and desorption from brines, conducted by KIT, presented the conclusions of their research work carried during the last six months, which includes a 4-step process. Their work has been focusing recently on the optimisation of the electrode pre-treatment, the establishment of the current densities and the reduction of the Na contaminations. Despite high Li selectivity rates obtained thus far, their work in the upcoming months will centre around optimising the recovery efficiency and the selectivity. Future experiments will test different thermal operating conditions (40°, 60°, 80°), but will also attempt to scale-up the process.
In the final technical work package, SINTEF scientists are pioneering a two-step process which involves in a primary phase selective chlorination by converting insoluble oxides to soluble chlorides; this is followed by a second step – electrolysis of the soluble chlorides extracting the target elements. After conducting different chlorination experiments, researchers emphasised the importance of time and the processing duration, confirming over 65% Li recovery rate. With promising results, their focus pivots towards the second step – electrolysis.
Read the next article for a comprehensive overview of the meeting.
In July 2023, International Energy Agency (IEA) released its inaugural “Critical Minerals Market Review”, along with their new online data explorer. Between 2017 and 2022, the demand of lithium (Li) tripled, primarily due to the energy sector’s reliance on it. According to the report, the market for energy transition minerals is poised for continued rapid growth, placing increasing pressure on the global mining industry.
Looking in particular at the Li price fluctuations, the study reports increases in 2021 and early 2022, accompanied by strong volatility. However, the latter half of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 saw more stable trends, albeit still remaining above historical averages.
Not unexpected, investment in the development of critical minerals, particularly Li, recorded a significant surge of 30% in 2022, building upon a previous increase of 20% in 2021. The IEA analysis examined the investment patterns of 20 major mining companies actively involved in the production of minerals essential for the energy transition. It revealed a substantial rise in capital expenditure specifically allocated to critical minerals. This upward trend can be attributed to the favourable momentum propelling the adoption of clean energy solutions, such as the most recent EU Regulation on Batteries and Waste Batteries. According to the IEA analysis, companies specialising in Li development witnessed 50% rise in their investment spending. Fuelled by the rising demand of electric vehicles, large industrial groups are competing now in a quest to secure mineral supplies: General Motors announced a 650 million USD in Lithium Americas, while Tesla confirmed already plans to build a Li refinery in Texas (USA).
Along with its ‘Critical Minerals Market Review 2023’, the IEA also launched the IEA Critical Minerals Data Explorer, an interactive tool that facilitates access to the agency’s projection data.
The IEA analysis conclusions raise the concern of the diversity supply. The LiCORNE project was launched at the encounter of European aspirations to advance the energy transition. The project aims to increase the European Lithium (Li) processing and refining capacity to produce battery-grade chemicals from ores, brines and off-specification battery cathode materials. Over a span of 48 months, from the 1st of October 2022 to the 30th of September 2026, eight research and development centres in Europe will investigate no less than 14 new technologies for extracting, recovering and refining Li.
Currently in its first year, the LiCORNE project completed the task of characterising and providing materials for the R&D activities. Most of the materials are sourced from European resources, including spodumene and Li-rich mica from mines in France and Austria, and geothermal brine sampled from the Upper Rhine Graben (France and Germany). The synthetic brine is prepared in UK. Only continental brine and off-specification cathode material originate from non-European countries – Chile and Korea.
For more information, refer to the detailed article, and explore the available Li resources in Europe.
Between 14 and 18 November 2022, the European Commission organised the 7th edition of the Raw Materials Week gathering a wide range of stakeholders discussing policies but also relevant alternatives in the field of raw materials. This was an opportune occasion for the LiCORNE project to cluster with seven other EU-funded projects at the event “Production of raw materials for batteries from European sources”. The objective of the workshop was to create an environment that could foster knowledge exchange on different approaches for the recycling and recovery for battery applications. Co-organised by CROCODILE, RHINOCEROS and LICORNE, with the participation of the EU funded projects BATRAW, RESPECT, RELiEF, FREE4LIB and ENICON, the workshop gathered nearly 100 organisations driving the production and the recycling of raw materials for battery applications from primary and secondary resources.
Due to the increasing usage of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems generated by the EU’s mission to limit climate change, the demand for many metals relevant for batteries is expected to grow by more than 1000% by 2050. Held in a hybrid format, the workshop provided participants with the opportunity to discover innovation routes followed by the clustering projects on their pathway to secure sustainable and responsible sourcing of raw materials for battery production.
Nearly three hours packed with presentations provided stakeholders with essential information about each project, from the main objectives and expected outcomes, to the lessons drawn from the activities carried out.
The CROCODILE project – First of a kind commercial Compact system for the efficient Recovery of Cobalt Designed with novel Integrated Leading technologies– was presented by Dr. Lourdes Yurramendi (TECNALIA). As the most mature project, CROCODILE’s keynote focused on valuable findings and learnings regarding different aspects of the project: the samples treatment, the selection of flowsheets, the life cycle analysis (LCA) and cost (LCC) of the pilot unit, to name only a few. Later on Monday, the project was also featured as a Success Story in the Raw Materials Week, where the presentation video was played for the first time.
Download the CROCODILE presentation
Sonia Matencio Lloberas (LEITAT) presented the BATRAW project – Recycling of end-of-life battery packs for domestic raw material supply chains and enhanced circular economy. This project will develop and demonstrate two innovative pilot systems for sustainable recycling and end-of-life (EoL) management of EV batteries. Depending on the results obtained, these technologies could be extended to other types of batteries to recover all the metals and materials contained: i.e., cobalt, nickel, manganese, lithium, graphite, aluminium, and copper.
Download the BATRAW presentation
Nader Akil (PNO Innovation Belgium) explained the mission and the motivation behind the RHINOCEROS project – Batteries reuse and direct production of high performances cathodic and anodic materials and other raw materials from batteries recycling using low cost and environmentally friendly technologies. As attractive energy storage technologies, Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have proven to be a reliable solution, especially when it comes to the production of low-emission fleets (EVs), followed by stationary storage market and consumer electronics. According to the Strategic research Agenda for Batteries, by 2030, the global demand for LIBs is estimated to increase 14 times and the EU could account for 17%. The battery market is expected to reach 250 billion EUR/year by 2025, while the production in Europe is foreseen to rise to 300 GWh/year as of 2030. This generates opportunities for projects like RHINOCEROS to develop economically and environmentally viable routes for re-using and recycling EoL EVs and stationary energy storage Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).
Download the RHINOCEROS presentation
Similar to the RHINOCEROS project, FREE4LIB [Feasible recovery of critical raw materials through a new circular ecosystem for a Li-ion battery cross-value chain in Europe] aims to simplify the recycling process of LIBs, as a more resilient and environmentally friendly alternative to the current linear economic model – take, make, dispose. The project, presented by Juan Castro (CARTIF), will develop six technologies at TRL5 to achieve new sustainable and efficient processes to recycle EoL LIBs: dismantling, pre-treatment and four materials recovery processes aiming to reach highly efficient materials recovery (metal oxides, metals and polymers). Additional to the recycling solutions, FREE4LIB will also target three processes dealing with metals and polymers re-using and electrode synthesis to re-manufacture new LIBs.
Download the FREE4LIB presentation
Justo Garcia (Orano Mining) presented the RESPECT project. Funded by the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, the project aims to strengthen expertise in techniques and the value chain for the recycling of electric vehicle batteries at European level. The RESPECT project will develop a global process encompassing a process-chain flexible enough to treat all kinds of batteries in closed loop. Precisely, researchers will explore two recycling routes: full hydrometallurgy and direct recycling, and an improved Life Cycle Assessment of each recycling segment to reduce emissions, health risks and safety issues.
Download the RESPECT presentation
Recently launched, the LiCORNE project – Lithium recovery and battery-grade materials production from European resources, was introduced by Alan González Morales (PNO Innovation Belgium), who explained briefly the project’s ambitious objectives to establish the first-ever Li supply chain in Europe. With five large primary resource owners (including one of the world leaders in Li production) involved in the consortium, the project aims to increase European Li processing and refining capacity for producing battery-grade chemicals from ores, geothermal and continental brines, tailings and off specification battery cathode materials (waste).
Download the LiCORNE presentation
Gabriel Hidalgo, from the Recycling Unit of Avesta Battery & Energy Engineering (ABEE), outlined the objectives and the impact expected from the RELiEF project – Recycling of Lithium from Secondary Raw Materials and Further. Expected to boost the recycling industry, this project aims to reduce Li waste by more than 70%, and to transform recycled resources into high value battery-grade material. Relying on a very diversified consortium, RELiEF will additionally propose a new business model for materials acquisition and processing, taking into consideration environmental and social sustainability.
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Sofía Riaño Torres (KU LEUVEN) presented the last EU project, ENICON– Sustainable processing of Europe’s low-grade sulphidic and lateritic nickel/cobalt ores and tailings into battery-grade metals -Launched in June 2022, the project aims to improve the refining capacity of domestic and imported low-grade Ni/Co. ENICON’s metal recovery route using hydrochloric acid dispenses with the old-school hydro-based approach that involves continuously precipitating and redissolving metals. Thus, it reduces the amount of chemicals needed for metal dissolution, which results in the production of potentially harmful waste streams. More information about the project in the joint documentary commissioned together with EU funded project NEMO: Responsible Mining in Europe.
Download the ENICON presentation
Although only in its first edition, the clustering workshop Production of raw materials for batteries from European resources attracted a diversified range of stakeholders. Counting more than 150 people registered, the audience was dominated by research organisations (26,97%), the rest of the audience being equally distributed between academia (17,76%), large companies (17,11%), SMEs (16,45%), EU institutions (4,61%) and other stakeholders addressing raw materials – national and regional administrative authorities, logistics service provides, investing companies, trade associations, NGOs, consulting companies (17,76%). Participants are located mainly in Europe but a percentage of nearly 20% shows growing enthusiasm from third countries, such as Turkey, Canada, South Korea, Chile, etc.
With the real peak of valuable outcomes from H2020 projects coming now, the aim goes beyond informing about the progress achieved to date. Building on the knowledge generated so far, new projects need to address different challenges, such as the high cost of exploration activities, the geological uncertainty, and the necessity to develop improved processing and refining technologies for better recovery of minerals and metals from side streams and industrial waste. Such challenges require close collaboration on all levels and across the entire battery value chain.
The last part of the event featured an interactive session, which included seven questions scrutinising stakeholders’ interest for similar clustering initiatives. With favourable answers and reviews, the Production of raw materials for batteries from European resources could turn into a permanent clustering hub fostering knowledge exchange and stimulating synergies between projects. More information will follow soon.