Chemical recovery of strategic elements

We are developing the science which will allow us to recover valuable strategic elements from batteries and other energy technologies.

Battery technology sits at the heart of the UK's Industrial Strategy. The need to decarbonise our economy is driving the expansion of electric vehicle production and greater use of battery technology to store intermittent electricity generated by renewable energy technologies. With this growing demand comes a need to recover more efficiently the materials contained in batteries and other energy technologies.

Our chemists in the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials are developing new processes to enable the economically viable recovery of strategic elements from waste streams with low concentrations of waste.

At present, recycling legislation drives waste companies to focus on the materials which are easy to recycle, which form the bulk of products. With the drive towards greater efficiency and cleaner energy technologies, products increasingly need to employ elements which are in short supply.

Many new energy technologies employ exotic materials in very small quantities. These often contain rare elements that exhibit specific properties which make them irreplaceable for a range of applications. At present, these materials form the remaining fraction of “unrecyclable” waste, which goes to landfill. 

We are developing the science which will turn the unrecyclable into a valuable resource.

For example, we are developing the processes to recover lithium, cobalt and graphite from used batteries. In the future, as demand for battery technologies continues to grow, the materials used to manufacture batteries will become increasingly valuable.

There are challenges in the recycling of litium ion batteries around the cost of recycling, the complexity of the operation and the separation of usable materials. Our scientists are working to address these issues through improved chemistries, processes and techniques.