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Circa's Cyrene solvent to help develop UK’s first industrial-scale car battery recycling project

Australia-headed biotechnology firm Circa Group is participating in an innovative project aimed at developing the first UK industrial scale capability to reclaim and reuse valuable components of end-of-life electrical vehicle (EV) batteries. The Reclamation, Remanufacture of Lithium-Ion Batteries – R2LIB project is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Faraday Battery Challenge – an initiative aimed at developing cost-effective, high-performance and recyclable automotive batteries.

The FC5 commercial demonstration plant.

The FC5 commercial demonstration plant at Norske Skog Boyen mill in Tasmania, Australia (photo courtesy Circa Group).

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Global EV Outlook 2019, the global electric car fleet exceeded 5.1 million in 2018 and is estimated to reach at least 130 million by 2030. This exponential growth is expected to lead to several millions of tonnes of spent batteries in need of recycling over the next 10 years or so. The Reclamation, Remanufacture of Lithium-Ion Batteries – R2LIB project looks to tackle this challenge by establishing a new, UK supply chain for extracting and reprocessing high-value components from end-of-life EV batteries.

Circa’s cellulose derived solvent “Cyrene” is specifically being used to recover polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) – a high-performance polymer widely used as a binder in Li-ion battery cathodes. PVDF processing currently relies on the use of NMP – a reprotoxic solvent, which is under intense regulatory pressure. By using Cyrene, R2LIB is helping recover a valuable polymer in a sustainable way.

As part of R2LIB, Circa is working with the University of York – who helped develop Cyrene.

A wide range of solvents have been investigated for the dissolution of battery-grade PVDF. Very few have proved able to dissolve this high molecular weight polymer, with Cyrene being one. Early results looking at recovery from spent electrodes have indicated Cyrene’s unique properties are proving useful in separating PVDF from other black mass materials, said Dr Rob McElroy of the University of York, who is a researcher on the R2LIB project.

Additional R2LIB partners include M-Solv (laser & robot modules for automatic handling and dismantling of batteries), ICoNiChem (recovery of cobalt, nickel, and manganese), PV3 Technologies (recycled cathode production) and WMG (a national facility for battery R&D).

We are proud of being part of a project looking to create a more sustainable automotive economy. Our bio-based solvent Cyrene is once again proving to be a high-performing and more sustainable alternative to traditional solvents, remarked Tony Duncan, CEO, and co-founder of Circa Group.

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