Momentum Technologies Inc., a Texas-based materials science company that is focused on extracting critical metals from electronic waste, has licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) process for recovering cobalt and other metals from spent lithium-ion batteries.
Less than 5% of spent lithium-ion batteries in the United States are recycled. Several critical elements are used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese. Using the Membrane Solvent Extraction process (MSX), developed by ORNL scientists as part of the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI), these elements can be recovered in a highly pure form that can be reformulated into battery composition for new devices.
Membrane-based dispersion-free supported liquid membrane solvent extraction enables the process to operate in a single step delivering multistage performance as good as or exceeding conventional solvent extraction. Novel system design features overcome some of the stability issues caused by the gradual loss of organic solvent and extractant. MSX requires low energy and provides greater efficiency and process stability.
After removing recyclable plastics and metals from end-of-life batteries, a sludgy mix of mostly lithium-ion battery elements known as “black mass” is left.
Half of the costs in lithium-ion battery recycling are in the logistics of shipping that material to processors. The MSX breakthrough allows us to build processing plants at the sources of the waste, eliminating logistics hurdles while increasing material recovery rates as compared to traditional smelters.—Preston Bryant, founder and CEO of Momentum
Ramesh Bhave, ORNL senior researcher and project leader for membrane-based rare earth elements separation supported by CMI, led the development of the MSX technology. His team includes post-doctoral researchers Syed Islam and Priyesh Wagh.
As more consumers embrace electric vehicles, developing efficient technologies to capture and reuse critical elements from spent batteries will be important to maintaining adequate supply without dependence on overseas mining and processing of critical materials.
There is an urgent need for having a domestic resource for some of these elements. There is little to no mining, downstream refining or recycling in the US for these elements and the traditional technology is quite complex and generates a lot of waste. Our technology contributes to a circular economy. We completely recycle end-of-life products without generating hazardous waste.—Ramesh Bhave
This technology recovers 99.9% pure lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese oxides or sulfates depending on battery materials manufacturers’ preferences and requirements. MSX is a closed-loop process; it is cheap, modular, energy efficient and produces nearly zero waste.—Preston Bryant
Momentum has licensed similar ORNL technologies for the recovery of other rare earth elements. A facility equipped for MSX can recover a range of elements from magnets, batteries, and other devices. CMI researchers continue to explore the MSX technology for other critical materials recovery.