One of the great problems that battery powered vehicles face in terms of being truly green is the lifespan of of the battery itself. Most car battery packs fail to hold charge for long after about 7-9 years and require longer charging times, thus increasing the demand on any power grid. It’s a physics thing; cells fail to bouncing tiny particles around to generate magnetism after so long. There is no infinite supply of energy from lithium batteries, they degrade, they fail.
But Toray Industries in Japan recently announced that it has innovated a nanofiltration membrane to recover lithium from used automotive lithium-ion batteries. Game changer? Hell yes.
This tech means lithium can be recovered from disposed of car, van and truck batteries. Toray is already starting to evaluate the recovery using actual lithium-ion batteries and will accelerate research and technological development to commercialize its approach.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Nanofiltration membranes can selectively separate dissolved multivalent ions and organic matter. Prime uses of these membranes are to filter ground and river water hardness and agricultural chemicals. They also desalinate and purify in food and biotechnology applications.
One downside of conventional nanofiltration membranes is their vulnerability to highly acidic solutions, limiting their application to the neutral region. Another is insufficient selectivity for multivalent ions, hampering separation efficiency. Prevailing membranes thus cannot use potent acids to leach and recover valuable metals from used lithium-ion batteries.
Toray created a cross-linked polymer membrane combining a highly acid-resistant setup and a precision pore structure smaller than 1 nanometer. This success is the result of using organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, and nanotechnology after analyzing membrane degradation from acids and optimal membrane pore structures for selective separation. The acid-resistance of this membrane is around five-fold higher than conventional offerings, with the selectivity being 50% greater.
Toray’s technology will streamline the recovery of valuable metals and make it possible to recover high-purity lithium in high yields. Carbon dioxide emissions from recovering 1kg of lithium through Toray’s nanofiltration membrane are nearly two-thirds lower than from the ore process.
Toray will collaborate with automakers, battery and battery material manufacturers, recycling companies, and other players to establish a lithium recycling approach.
If this tech can be scaled up it means that lithium production can be restricted, or at least managed better, as demand for electric vehicles increases. In turn, that means less environmental impact on new lithium production, although slave labour and earth damaging mining may still be required for cobalt or other rare eath minerals needed to power electric cars.
For insurers, the key point worth noting is that Green activists don’t seem too worried about modern slavery. Mining is good, so long as it isn’t mining for gas or oil, just meterials to make car and bicycle batteries. So tech like this is perfect for insurers looking to boost their ESG credentials in their annual report too
More info at the Toray site here.