Momentum Technologies, a Dallas-based materials science company focused on extracting critical metals from electronic waste, has licensed a process developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for recovering cobalt and other metals from spent Li-ion batteries.
Several critical elements, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese, are used in EV batteries. Using ORNL’s Membrane Solvent Extraction (MSX) process, these elements can be recovered in a pure form that can be reformulated into new devices. After removing recyclable plastics and metals from end-of-life batteries, a sludgy mix of mostly Li-ion battery elements known as “black mass” is left.
“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,” said lead researcher Ramesh Bhave. “Our technology contributes to a circular economy. We completely recycle end-of-life products without generating hazardous waste.”
“Half of the costs in lithium-ion battery recycling are in the logistics of shipping that material to processors,” said Momentum CEO Preston Bryant. “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.”
ORNL says MSX processing uses a limited amount of energy, labor and chemical solvents, and can be applied to a variety of critical material recovery efforts.
“This technology recovers 99.9% pure lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese oxides or sulfates depending on battery materials manufacturers’ preferences and requirements,” Bryant said. “MSX is a closed-loop process; it is cheap, modular, energy-efficient, and produces nearly zero waste.”
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.