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The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems has opened a new facility in Freiburg to recycle useful materials from discarded batteries.

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The recycling of battery raw materials – many of which are associated with controversial mining processes and pollution – has become a critical issue. The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) has therefore opened a new facility in Freiburg for testing new recycling processes to recover materials such as lithium, nickel and cobalt from discarded batteries.

A central focus will be the hydrometallurgical (extraction by water) and electrochemical processing of metallic battery materials. Furthermore, researchers aim to recover raw materials from digestion media and wastewater and to investigate how these secondary materials can be resynthesised into the starting materials for new battery production.

The manufacturing side of material conservation will also be explored using sophisticated digital techniques: reject rates must be reduced, product defects should be avoided and new processes for monitoring the purity and quality of raw materials will be developed. A 400 square metre pilot plant for inline testing has been built for this purpose.

The next generation of batteries must have increased energy density and longer service life without reliance upon minerals like cobalt. The IKTS is therefore intensifying its research into novel battery concepts such as solid-state batteries, in which the liquid electrolyte is replaced by solid electrolytes based on polymers or ceramics.

The IKTS has already received EUR seven million in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. And this is just the start. “This concerns not only the increased use of renewable energies, but also the sustainable design of the technologies used for this purpose within the framework of a future circular economy," summarises Prof. Alexander Michaelis, the institute’s director, in a press release.