Significance of a Solid Electrolyte Interphase on Separation of Anode and Cathode Materials from Spent Li-Ion Batteries by Froth Flotation

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Department of Chemical Engineering


The separation of electrode active materials from spent Li-ion batteries (LIBs) by froth flotation is challenging due to the changes in surface properties of electrode active materials from cycling as well as the presence of organic binders. In this work, the froth flotation separation of aged anode and cathode composite materials from spent LIBs was systematically investigated after the materials were heat treated. The results show that aged anode and cathode materials from spent LIBs can be well separated from each other after a heating process in air at 400 °C and at which some of the PVDF binder remains intact. The underlying mechanism was investigated by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), contact angle measurements, and scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX). The results from the XPS and contact angle measurements show that there is a hydrophilic and oxygen-rich layer on the surface of aged anode materials. This hydrophilic surface, associated with the solid electrolyte interface (SEI) layer, impacts the froth flotation process significantly. The results also show that both the SEI layers and PVDF binder residues on the surface are removed at 400 °C for an hour, restoring the hydrophobicity of the anode materials, which, in turn, benefits the separation of anode and cathode materials. The STEM/EDX elemental analysis data confirms that there are 20 nm-thick oxygen-rich SEI layers on the surfaces, which can be removed after a heating process. The present result illustrates the significance of the SEI layers in flotation separation of electrode materials and sheds new lights into the future development of the recycling processes for the separation of anode and cathode composite materials from spent Li-ion batteries.

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© 2020 American Chemical Society. All rights reserved. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c07965

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ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering