Meet LiCoBat

The LiCoBat project is an international task force.

LiCoBat is a cutting-edge initiative aimed at the reverse logistics and recycling of Li-ion batteries, with the building of a pre-industrial scale pilot-plant designed for the recovery and safe disposal of Lithium (Li) and Cobalt (Co) elements.
This project is born out of a patent developed at the University of Rome – La Sapienza – by the EcoRecycling spinoff company, and from the technological cooperation between Brazil and Italy. This action is part of the Program for Research and Innovation in Raw Materials for the Promotion of the Circular Economy – ERA-MIN 2 (2016-2022), a global pan-European network represented in Brazil by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and by Finep, and in Italy by Regione Calabria.
As important as the development of the industrial prototype is the project goal, which is to carry out a mapping of the disposal of Li-ion batteries, as well as of the path such batteries follow until reaching recycling facilities – mainly in Brazil, due to its extensive territory. The objective is to learn the present reverse logistics limitations, and also to identify the actions required to optimize the feeding of a future industrial plant, both in Brazil and in Italy.
In Italy, the LiCoBat project has as its agent the Ecosistem company, located in the Calabria region, while in Brazil the agents are the CTI – Information Technology Center Renato Archer and Biosys Waste Management.

Why is Recycling Li-ion batteries important?

Stop for a second and look around. How many electronic devices are there around you? Smartphones, laptops, tablets… There is a high probability all of them are powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Li-ion batteries are a fundamental component of modern life, and demand for such batteries worldwide has been presenting an exponential growth, caused by the increasing consumption of electronic devices. However, while electronic devices improve our everyday life, they also contain raw materials that are extracted from nature and whose reserves are limited, if not close to exhaustion. Furthermore, disposed electronic devices may produce environmental harm if said disposal is not properly carried out.
Some important factors for the recovery of Li-ion batteries materials are the:
– Reduction of the environmental impact in the conventional mining operations for the extraction of primary raw-materials;
– Reduction of the environmental impact caused by the incorrect disposal of electro-electronic devices;
– Materials obtained from recycling operations have lower cost (both financial and environmental) than their counterparts extracted from nature;
– Creation of jobs and generation of income in the reversed logistics processes of electro-electronic devices;
Lithium and Cobalt which are recovered through the LiCoBat project will be able to be used not only in the manufacture of new batteries for electronic and industrial equipment, but also of heat-resistant glass and ceramic components, batteries for electric vehicles, industrial lubricant mass, and even in the treatment of bipolar and depression disorders.

Is there so much waste?

If we take only smart phones as an example, Brazil sold a total of 48.7 million new devices in the year of 2020 alone, according to the IDC Brasil institute. In Brazil, only 1% of cell phone batteries is estimated to go through a controlled disposal process.
The remaining waste is disposed of in regular waste containers, resulting in hazards to the public health by means of environmental contamination. And let’s not forget the possibility of fires, since Li-ion batteries are a waste that might spontaneously ignite when exposed to the air, thus placing trash pickers and nearby communities at a great risk.
More than 25,700 tons of batteries were introduced in the Italian market in 2019; in the same year, the reversed logistics chain of small electronic devices – organized by the ‘Centro Di Coordinamento Nazionale Pile e Accumulatori’ – was able to collect approximately 11,000 tons of batteries, with 25% of those (more than 2,500 tons) being Li-ion batteries.

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The basis of the circular economy is the rational use of material, promoting the reuse of raw materials in a cyclic chain; thus reducing the strain on the environment caused by the extraction of natural resources.

The LiCoBat Project has as its mission to significantly contribute in the conduction of Lithium Ion batteries life cycle to the circular economy, focusing on the recovery of Lithium, Cobalt and other critical materials, after these batteries have reached the end of their service life.

Aiming at demonstrating the technical and economical feasibility of the reuse of materials from disposed Li-Ion batteries, the LiCoBat Project is structured to achieve two main objectives:

Development of the industrial process for the extraction of Lithium and Cobalt from Li-Ion batteries:

In order to achieve this objective, the LiCoBat Project uses a hydrometallurgical process developed by the Eco Recycling company (a spin off from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”), object for the European patent EP2450991, which, when compared to the presented state-of-the-art alternatives, allows for the separate recovery of Lithium, Cobalt, Manganese, in addition to the base metals.

The Eco Recycling process finds itself in a laboratory scale, and still poses technological challenges for its economical and industrial viability. The main challenges are related to the optimization of hydrometallurgical processes, which are required for scaling the process up to an industrial level, and to the development of a safe method that allows for obtaining the internal mass of batteries, when treated in large quantities.

As part of the LiCoBat Project, the solutions found for these challenges will be demonstrated through the construction and operation of a pilot plant for the treatment of up to 100 kg/day of batteries.

Optimization of reverse logistics of Li-Ion batteries

When creating an economically-feasible recovery of disposed Li-Ion batteries is concerned, the efficiency at which reverse logistics provides these batteries for the recycling unit is a critical component, as well as the efficiency of the process used for materials extraction.

Nowadays the reverse chain of Li-Ion batteries presents a low efficiency, especially in Brazil, where only 3% of disposed batteries are correctly sent for recycling. Aiming at maximizing the number of batteries which are made available for recycling at the end of their service life, as part of an optimal cost-benefit ratio, the LiCoBat Project has as a goal to map and detail the processes of reverse logistics of Li-Ion batteries presently used in Brazil and in Europe, aiming at identifying the opportunities for improvement that allow for an optimization of this logistics.

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