New facility at University of Birmingham accelerates battery recycling research

Researchers working on the Faraday Institution ReLiB (Recycling and Reuse of Li-ion Batteries) project have completed the installation of new battery testing and storage facilities at the University of Birmingham.

The new facilities will allow battery scientists and engineers to speed up their research to develop safe, economic and environmentally sound recycling routes that recover large volumes of valuable materials contained in batteries at the end of their first life. The aim is to help the UK’s efforts to develop a circular economy around raw materials for batteries, ensure the country has sufficient capacity for the recycling of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) as their usage increases, and provide UK-based businesses with a competitive advantage.

The safe, controlled environment that the facility offers is an important additional national resource that will also be used by UK scientists in other Faraday Institution projects and beyond to safely perform destructive tests of EV batteries under controlled conditions. This will lead to a better understanding of how and why batteries fail and will allow the investigation of how damaged batteries can be safely recycled.

The facility is European Council for Automotive R&D - EUCAR 7 rated, meaning impact, fire, and explosive battery failures can all be studied safely.

There are only a handful of similar test chambers in the UK and their use is in high demand, which previously caused delays to research programmes.

The installation and enclosure of the new battery testing and storage facilities represents an investment of about 590,000 (515,000 by the Faraday Institution and 75,000 by the University of Birmingham).

One possible commercial method of recycling EV batteries may involve their shredding followed by recovery of valuable components including cobalt, nickel and lithium, by physical, chemical or biochemical separation and purification. At the new facility EV batteries of known composition are being shredded in a controlled and safe environment, with larger volumes of shredded material made available to researchers than has previously been possible working at lab scale. This material is being distributed to universities involved in the ReLiB project around the UK who are developing possible methods for materials recovery at volumes that are more representative of possible future commercial processes.

For example, the University of Leicester is investigating mechanical and chemical separation techniques. The University of Edinburgh is researching the use of bacteria to selectively leach high value metals. At the University of Birmingham, researchers in the School of Metallurgy and Minerals are investigating magnetic separation techniques and direct recycling of anode material and scientists in the Chemistry Department are researching selective leaching low temperature regeneration and direct recycling of cathode materials as possible recycling methods.

“In order to develop a circular economy in the UK, and recover the materials required to produce future batteries it is important to establish a battery recycling industry here, which is a significant economic opportunity for the country,’ said Dr Paul Anderson , Principal Investigator of the Faraday Institution’s ReLiB project.

“Increased battery recycling will satisfy the urgent imperative to reduce the amount of raw materials that need to be sourced to manufacture batteries for future EVs, so making better use of global resources and improving security of materials supply chains. The new facilities at the University of Birmingham will quickly become an invaluable resource for UK-based researchers, working on ReLiB and other projects, to accelerate our understanding of the underpinning scientific processes that will allow this to be achieved.’

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