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Old mining techniques used to recycle Li-ion batteries

Using century-old minerals processing methods, chemical engineering students at Michigan Technological University have found a solution to economically recycling lithium-ion batteries.

The team used mining industry technologies to separate everything in the battery: the casing, metal foils and coatings for the anode and cathode.

"The biggest advantage of our process is that it’s inexpensive and energy efficient." Ruitang Zhan purple gloved hands hold vials of copper and lithium Old school mining techniques showed students how to separate the different parts of lithium batteries. “For the purpose of remanufacturing, our recycled materials are as good as virgin materials, and they are cheaper,” Oldenburg adds.

The fact that their process is tried and true is perhaps its most attractive quality to industry, notes Lei Pan, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Technological University.

We saw the opportunity to use an existing technology to address emerging challenges. We use standard gravity separations to separate copper from aluminum, and we use froth flotation to recover critical materials, including graphite, lithium and cobalt. These mining technologies are the cheapest available, and the infrastructure to implement them already exists.

—Lei Pan

To advance the research, Pan has received funding from the Michigan Technological University Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) statewide Innovation Hub.

The project was funded by a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. An article on the work was published online in Sustainable Materials and Technologies.


  • Ruiting Zhan, Zachary Oldenburg, Lei Pan (2018) “Recovery of active cathode materials from lithium-ion batteries using froth flotation,” Sustainable Materials and Technologies, Volume 17, e00062 doi: 10.1016/j.susmat.2018.e00062


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