Jennifer Little Jones, Program Director of the Advanced Clean Energy Program at Energy, Center for Mining and Environmental Researchdiscusses the direction of the program, which aims to support the emerging battery supply chain in Canada.
In order for Canada to meet its 40-45% emission reduction targets in 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, targeted research is needed to develop clean energy technologies and bring them out of the lab. The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) conducts research and development of batteries throughout the supply chain, from extraction to end-use integration.
The NRC’s Advanced Clean Energy Program was developed as part of the Energy, Mining and Environment Research Center to host strategic research and development (R&D) projects. In order to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, these projects take into account the priorities of the Government of Canada and Canadian industry.
To facilitate the transition to electrification in many sectors in Canada, a key pillar of this strategic program is to promote the Canadian energy storage and battery supply chain, including the development and recovery of minerals and materials for stationary and motor applications.
While the program was launched in 2021, it is based on research capabilities to develop batteries that have been growing in the NRC for decades. The program hosts more than 25 projects in the energy storage ladder for and in collaboration with partners from industry, academia and government, both nationally and internationally.
The research is conducted at sites across Canada, including: Boucherville, Quebec, with a focus on mineral accounting and processing; Ottawa, Ontario, with activities including recycling, new batteries, solid electrolytes and safety; Mississauga, Ontario, review of new battery materials and discovery; and Vancouver, British Columbia, with research in the areas of redox flow and charge status, health status, and standards development.
The NRC has many unique facilities used to carry out these strategic projects, including a battery performance and safety assessment facility, a small battery development and testing facility, and a pilot battery recycling plant.
The goals of the Advanced Clean Energy program
The program aims to develop a local, ethical and clean battery supply chain as a key opportunity for the Canadian market.1 Four key areas of research are conducted in support of the supply chain focused on the environment, social sphere and governance (ESG):
Battery detection and recovery
Detection and quantitative analysis of Canadian-specific materials such as lithium, lithium brine, nickel and cobalt salts, vanadium and natural flaky graphite in co-production / processing for use in battery anodes and cathodes of lithium-ion battery (LIBs) sensor technologies .
Battery materials and components
Evaluate and improve battery properties, such as capacity retention, cyclic stability, specific capacity and current density, as well as speed performance for various chemicals, such as wet lithium cells, instantaneous batteries and next-generation solid-state batteries. Development of new membranes / separators, research of cathode-electrolyte interfaces and battery management systems.
Battery recycling and end of life
Analysis, development and piloting of recycling processes, as well as health diagnostics of batteries for consumers and electric vehicles (EV), to determine whether the cell should be reused in alternative applications such as stationary storage or recycled backup in a new package or module or sent for large-scale recycling.
Battery safety and performance
Modeling and experimentation to identify high-risk failure scenarios for lithium-ion cell safety testing, thermal misuse testing and early detection of LIBs thermal consumption based on gas monitoring and experimental inert gas fire extinguishing studies, including others.
New projects for Canada’s Critical Minerals Initiative will be described in more detail below.
Towards North American LCA-based certification for critical minerals
In addition to the technical and economic challenges of sourcing materials for use in LIB, there is a growing interest in quantifying the resilience of critical minerals and battery supply chains. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can be a key tool for providing such assessments, identifying hotspots to reduce negative impacts, while guiding decision-making by end-users, such as EV manufacturers and consumers.
A successful LCA depends on the quality of the life cycle inventory (LCI) data around mining and downstream raw material processes. Therefore, in order to increase the credibility of the LCA results, it is desirable to build a harmonized and transparent methodology.
The NRC has adapted an LCA framework to address this challenge in the context of critical minerals in the battery,2 using publicly available information and modeling processes to assess LCI data and environmental impacts in the context of the battery supply chain in Canada.
LIB recycling: Pilot with a scale-supported liquid membrane (SLM).
Demand for LIB for EV use is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. At the same time, larger quantities of spent LIB will require sustainable disposal methods. Developing an effective strategy for recycling LIBs, including processing and policy-making, is an essential step towards developing a circular economy model, thus avoiding landfilling and ensuring an alternative supply of energy metals.
Currently, spent LIB is disassembled by hand, shredded and physically separated. Plastics, steel, copper and aluminum are returning to current recycling chains. The cathode and anode materials end in a black mass, from which only copper (Co) and nickel (Ni) are usually extracted by melting. These metals do not have to be returned to battery production. The recent recycling of LIB, which adopts hydrometallurgical approaches, produces manganese (Mn), Co and Ni salts together with lithium hydroxide / carbonates, which are then returned to LIB production.
Solvent extraction using conventional precipitating mixers is commonly used and requires a large volume of organic extractant. The NRC is developing supported liquid membrane (SLM) technologies that would consume some of the organic extractant needed in the conventional system. To date, laboratory tests of synthetic solutions have shown successful separation of Co-Ni, achieving 100% recovery of Co, while recovering only 200 ppm Ni from a 10,000 pm Ni feed.
As ongoing work continues to develop Mn-Co-Ni separation and demonstrate the use of hollow fiber SLM in batch testing, an integrated pilot installation for simultaneous Mn-Co-Ni separation using up to ten modules is underway. planning.
The planned pilot plant will process a pregnant leaching solution obtained from two tonnes of “real” black mass. Commissioning and operation is expected in 2023.
Direct extraction of lithium from salami in oil fields
Canada’s natural resources include many of the major minerals identified by Natural Resources Canada.3 This includes lithium, a key element for LIB that can be found in two forms, hard rock and brine in oil fields.
Oil sausages are usually low in (less than 100 ppm) lithium and high in impurities such as sodium (Na), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca) and strontium (Sr). Existing industrial extraction technology is difficult and uneconomical to process this type of low-quality brine. The purpose of this research study at the NRC is to investigate a green and promising lithium-ion exchange technology for the extraction of lithium from low-quality Li-containing brine. This study covers two technology streams: electrochemically assisted lithium-ion sieve technology (e-LIS) and the development of a lithium-specific extractant to be used with SLM.
Quantification of nickel and iron precursors and intermediates for potential use in batteries
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), more than 55% of the world’s nickel production is directed to the stainless steel industry, with only 10% for chemicals. This has created an intermediate bottleneck in the supply chain for EV reception, as most LIBs preferred in North America are high-nickel cathodes. There is no immediate relief, as most mines take 15-20 years to commercialize. Cobalt poses an additional challenge in the battery supply chain in Canada due to the associated socio-economic impacts of mining and refining.
The NRC is investigating an integrated approach that develops new cathodic chemistry based on nickel-iron (Ni-Fe) and is derived from converted nickel cast iron (NPI) or ferronickel into a cathodic precursor intermediate. The processing study will evaluate the selective leaching of Ni with little Fe or will look for leaching of Ni and Fe together to be used as a precursor for cathode synthesis. The development of cathodes will consider new cathodes based on Ni-Fe with an emphasis on impurity tolerance, which may subsequently reduce processing requirements. This holistic approach will maximize the limitation of raw materials, the intensity of processing for cleanliness and the supply of batteries.
Jennifer Little Jones
Advanced clean energy
National Research Council of Canada
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