The specialty chemicals company Evonik Industries revealed its goals at its innovation conference on Thursday. The German company is working on recycling electric car batteries and has innovative food production. Among the food production innovation, the focus is on reducing crop fertilizer consumption and improving the meat testing process.
According to Evonik, up to 95% of the lithium in lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries is not being recycled, mainly due to high costs. Its solution, currently being tested on a pilot scale, increases efficiency using an electrochemical process with a ceramic membrane, which results in battery-grade lithium for use in new cells. Evonik’s specialists are confident the ceramic membrane process will be market ready in three to five years, it said.
For agriculture, the company is developing bacteria as biostimulants to supply the nitrogen needed to grow cereals such as wheat and corn, instead of energy-intensive synthetic fertilizers. “Our idea was to provide the plants with nitrogen from the atmosphere with bacteria. If this idea is successful this makes a major contribution to sustainability…,” said Jan Wolter who heads the farm-to-fork division at Evonik’s innovation unit Creavis.
The company said it expected to launch the first biostimulant formulations commercially between 2025 and 2027. It is also working on technology to help determine the origin and quality of chicken products, aiming to tap into consumer demand for increased transparency. Development work on the product, which uses an epigenetics and bioinformatics platform to test for a multitude of animal welfare factors, is well advanced, and specific tests can be made available to customers in the short- to mid-term, Evonik said.
Gorman is responsible for the market development of lithium recycling at Creavis, Evonik’s strategic innovation unit and business incubator, and is familiar with the legal situation: In the EU, it is stipulated that in four years’ time at least 35 percent of the lithium from spent batteries will have to be recovered. From 2030, the percentage has to be increased to 70 percent. China and the USA also have government regulations on the recovery of lithium.
The processes currently used to recover metals from spent batteries are based on smelting (pyrometallurgical process), leaching (hydrometallurgical process), or a combination of the two. These processes have proven effective for the recovery of cobalt and nickel. Conventional reprocessing of lithium is also based on hydrometallurgical processes. However, the processes are cost-intensive, require large quantities of energy and water, and involve many interim steps and additional chemicals. There are therefore good reasons to look for better alternatives.