One of the future recycling needs for the Li-ion battery chemistry involves testing of improved methods for recovering alternative cathode materials. Because the economic incentive to reclaim these materials will likely be less than for cobalt, it will be important for the processes to be highly efficient and necessary to use inexpensive reagents. Other opportunities are in recovery of carbon anodes. It is preferable to process them back into new battery anodes because this would be the most valuable use for the carbon material. However, this will be a difficult task requiring extensive study before feasibility can be proven.
The lithium-polymer version of these batteries is another area where work is needed. Lithium-polymer batteries are being rapidly developed for portable consumer electronics applications and may be used in the future for EV/HEVs since the polymer design mitigates safety concerns regarding lithium metal in large cells. Some work to develop recycling processes is under way, but no details have been published and no process test data have been made available. Although many of the constituents are shared in common with the Li-ion battery system, the presence of a solid polymer electrolyte introduces new materials with unique properties. This may complicate physical disassembly of cells if that is needed as part of the recycling process, but also may present opportunities to increase revenues from recycling. Investment in recycling process improvement will continue to be difficult to obtain for lithium batteries since most of the high-value constituents are already accounted for, and there are only small numbers of prototype lithium-polymer batteries in the field.
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