China boosts recycling tech to meet power battery challenge


China, one of the world's major producers and users of power batteries, has been faced with a huge rise in the decommissioning of batteries in recent years, responding to the challenge with large-scale recycling efforts.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said last week that the country has built more than 10,000 power battery recycling service outlets. In the first five months of this year, some 115,000 tonnes of batteries were recycled, exceeding the total amount for last year.

However, the nation's recycling capacity still lags behind the market demand. According to CCID Consulting, which falls under the MIIT, the decommissioning of batteries in China has increased considerably since 2021. About 277,000 tonnes of power batteries were decommissioned in 2022. It is expected that the number will rise to 1 million tonnes per year after 2025.

One key factor for successfully meeting this challenge is the progress being made in recycling technology and its application within the industry. Technologies currently exist to recover the component chemicals from power batteries – such as nickel, cobalt and lithium – but there is room for improvement on both efficiency and capacity.

According to Xin Guobin, vice minister of industry and information technology, there are many utilization and recycling companies in China, but they have varying levels of technical ability.

The recovery rate of nickel and cobalt resources in advanced companies is about 95 percent, while that for lithium is also more than 90 percent. However, the recycling rate of lithium in some companies may range from 70 percent to 80 percent.

A research team from the Qinghai Institute of Salt Lakes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences has invented a new way to recover more than 90 percent of lithium from decommissioned lithium-ion batteries, the main type of power battery used. The team has been working with recycling companies to implement this new technology.

It applied membrane separation technology to extract lithium by acid leaching, with the purity of the recovered lithium carbonate reaching 99.69 percent, which has a high commercial value. The recovery rate of lithium in the whole process reached 92.24 percent.

Wang Min, the team leader, said the electrolytes and solvents of waste lithium-ion battery contain organic solvents, especially fluorine, heavy metals and other harmful substances. If improperly disposed of, they will harm both the environment and human beings.

The new technology uses a physical separation process to reduce the use of chemical reagents, thus minimizing pollution and avoiding secondary pollution to the environment during the recycling process.

The Qinghai Institute of Salt Lakes has cooperated with local companies in the provinces of Qinghai and Hebei to apply the technology in new recycling projects. A project in Handan, Hebei Province, can handle 20,000 tonnes of lithium power batteries annually, and has now started the phase of equipment installation and testing.

Government departments have also put forward policies to guide recycling companies in upgrading their technology.

The MIIT and other relevant departments have issued national standards for power batteries, such as specifications and sizes, disassembly procedures and residual energy detection. They have also promoted the unified coding system for power batteries, and established a national tracing and management platform, together with a tracing and monitoring mechanism for the whole life cycle of power batteries.

Xin said that power battery recycling is of great significance for stabilizing the supply of resources, protecting the environment and realizing healthy and sustainable industrial development.

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency

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