A contribution to understanding the flotation behavior of lithium metal oxides and spheroidized graphite for lithium-ion battery recycling

Anna Vanderbruggen*, Johanna Sygusch, Martin Rudolph, Rodrigo Serna-Guerrero

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The treatment of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) using froth flotation has recently gained interest as a method to separate valuable lithium transition-metal oxides (LMOs) and graphite particles from the so-called “black mass” mixture. However, the flotation mechanisms of the cathode active particles have not been properly discussed so far, likely since they are generally accepted to be hydrophilic and are thus expected to remain suspended in the bulk phase and recovered in the underflow. Nevertheless, the froth phase products reported in the literature often contain more than 10% LMOs. This results in losses of cathode materials, while hampering the quality of the recovered anode components. As graphite is one of the main materials used for anode manufacturing, being categorized as a critical raw material, its recovery plays an essential role in the electric vehicle revolution. This work provides the first fundamental study on the flotation mechanisms of the fine particulate black mass components, with the aim of properly identifying the challenges to overcome in order to drive selectivity in froth flotation separation. A series of analysis using model black mass were carried out to circumvent the influence of residual hydrophobic binder found in LIB waste. Studies of wettability with captive bubble and Washburn capillary rise methods show contact angles for LMOs varying from 14° to 52.6° depending on the technique used. Using a bubble-particle attachment set-up it was found that LMO particles can attach to air bubbles spontaneously and in measurable quantities, contrary to the commonly assumed hydrophilic character of cathode active particles. It was also observed that the typically used oil-based collectors (e.g., Escaid 110) interact with both spheroidized graphite and lithium metal oxides, increasing their hydrophobicity and promoting agglomeration. Finally, the particle agglomeration of black mass components provides another flotation mechanism for LMOs through entrapment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127111
Number of pages11
JournalColloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects
Volume626
Early online date1 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Black mass
  • Froth flotation
  • Lithium ion batteries
  • Lithium transition metal oxide
  • Recycling
  • Spheroidized graphite

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