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​Hydrometallurgical processes: a unique alternative for recovering and recycling critical metals

Hydro metallic processes

Published on 7 May 2019

Liten began researching recycling in 2010, with a focus on finding solutions for the end-of-lifecycle management of lithium-ion batteries used in the transportation industry. Since then, we have run a number of hydrometallurgical process programs to develop solutions that comply with Directive 2006/66/EC, which requires that more than 50% of the material in these batteries be recovered. The scope of our hydrometallurgical process research very rapidly expanded beyond battery recycling, encompassing end-of-lifecycle management issues inherent to the technologies developed at our labs and, in particular, those using critical or high-added-value materials. Today, Liten is known for its capacity to develop specific end-of-lifecycle recycling solutions for a variety of technologies and to find new uses for recycled materials in the technologies developed by Liten labs. All of these activities are part of a broader approach to promote environmentally-friendly design principles and reduce the environmental impact of new technologies at every stage of their lifecycle.

Hydrometallurgical processes are used to extract and purify metals. These liquid-phase chemical processes separate the different metals contained in an ore or blend of materials so that the metals can then be recycled. No other method can obtain the high levels of purity (greater than 99%) achieved with hydrometallurgical processes. However, when used for recycling, hydrometallurgical processes are only as good as the methods used to prepare the materials before processing. These include dismantling, grinding, and separation to concentrate the metals of interest in a solid fraction before further separation during the hydrometallurgical process. The result? More metal is recovered at lower financial and environmental cost. The approach can recover 80% of the materials in lithium-ion batteries, for example. 

Our researchers bring know-how in chemistry, chemical engineering, electrochemistry, materials analysis, and materials science in general to deliver research and development services to:

  • Manufacturers seeking to ensure that their technologies are recyclable amid a broadening scope of potential liability (involving batteries and waste electrical and electronic equipment, for example)

  • Recycling companies seeking new ways to use the byproducts of their processes or simply make their processes more efficient

The processes developed are implemented at Technology Readiness Levels 3 to 5 at the CEA and are ready for industrial scale-up and transfer.


Effective processes for recovering and recycling critical metals

  • Using hydrometallurgical processes can help you comply with regulations concerning the amount of material that must be recovered and even exceed the minimum requirements

  • The materials recovered are pure enough to be reused and reinjected into new manufacturing cycles

  • The processes used are more energy-efficient than other recycling methods, and achieve higher yields and levels of purity

  • Partnership with recycling company SNAM to implement hydrometallurgical processes to boost process yields and increase the value of the recycled materials produced.

  • The Recval-HPM project (financed by the French National Research Agency) in conjunction with Triade, a subsidiary of Veolia specializing in the recycling of WEEE. The project is investigating ways to recover and recycle used magnets contained in waste electrical and electronic equipment. The first step is to locate the magnets in WEEE, then find the best methods for recycling the magnets, and recover the rare earth minerals contained in the magnets using various processes, including hydrometallurgy.

  • The EU Cabriss project on end-of-lifecycle recycling of PV panels and the recovery of high-added-value metals such as silver and copper.

  • The EU REE4EU project on rare earth mineral recovery in Ni-MH batteries using hydrometallurgical processes to reduce environmental impacts and extract more value from the materials recovered.

  • The EU Reslag project to recycle mineral byproducts of iron and steel industry processes.

  • Around ten researchers

  • Ten patents

  • Publications: 

Lemaire J, Svecova L, Lagallarde F, Laucournet R, Thivel PX. March 2014. Lithium recovery from aqueous solution by sorption/desorption. Hydrometallurgy 143: 1–11.

Joulié M, Laucournet R, Billy E. February 1, 2014. Hydrometallurgical process for the recovery of high value metals from spent lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide based lithium-ion batteries. Journal of Power Sources 247: 551–555.

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