Recycling lithium-ion batteries

MTRL D+ID team

Jenny Chen, Alan Chow, Geoffrey Lam, Jason Sugiharto, Eleanor Walton-Knight, Susan Xu

Our project

With the push to electrification and rising popularity of electric vehicles, the demand for lithium ion batteries continues to soar. However, the materials required for these batteries are in short supply. That makes it all the more important to find economically feasible ways to recover the metals within these batteries at the end of their lives. 

We developed a hydrometallurgical process to recover nickel, lithium, manganese and cobalt from lithium ion batteries. 

Our design solution incudes a mass and energy balance, financial analysis, and hazard and environmental identification.  

Our process and the results of our analysis

We worked on this project with Hatch, a consulting engineering firm. They asked us to develop a solution that could recover metals from a total annual input of 30,000 tonnes of black mass (the waste generated from battery cells, which includes both the useful metals and various impurities). 

Our process removes the impurities – like graphite, copper, aluminum and iron – and isolates the metals we want: nickel, lithium, manganese and cobalt. 

This process consumes reagents including sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydroxide. It uses solvent extraction to isolate manganese and cobalt carbonate and precipitation to isolate for nickel hydroxide. The lithium sulfate solution is sent offsite for treatment. 

Once we had landed on a workable process and identified the mechanical equipment needed to support our operation, we did a feasibility study to assess if our proposed plant was economically viable. 

This included costing out both capital expenditures and operating expenditures in terms of reagents, labour and maintenance materials. 



MTRL design poster


The challenges we faced

Doing the mass energy balance was a lot of work, and there are a lot of different parts at play that need to be connected. We got a little stuck in one area with a complicated process and needed to shift our approach to find a different way to address the challenge. 

Our sponsor, Hatch, also helped us cost out some of the equipment for our financial analysis.

What we’re most proud of

Each of us made significant contributions to different elements of this project. There’s a lot of pride that comes from looking at the process flow diagram or feasibility study, to take just two examples, and knowing your role in putting that together. 

We were also a very strong team and supported each other throughout the year. Finally, this project was a lot of fun. 

In many ways it felt like we were operating like a consulting firm working with a client – which is what many of us will likely end up doing after we graduate!


Our project’s future

We provided our presentation and analysis to Hatch and they may build on aspects of our feasibility study for work they do with their clients. 

More broadly, our process outlines an economically viable way to increase metal recovery from used lithium ion batteries, which would help meet the growing demand for batteries without the financial costs and environmental impact of mining on land and water use. 

UBC materials engineering student at a co-op placement at Vector Aerospace

Materials Engineering

What’s it made of and why? If you ask these questions about the products that surround you or dream about creating the building blocks for substances that haven’t yet been invented, you should explore materials engineering.

Materials Engineering

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