Hear from Dr Anwar Sattar (Principal Engineer in Battery Recycling, Re-use and Remanufacture, WMG)...
The UK is firmly in the midst of an electric revolution. According to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 50% of all the passenger vehicles sold in 2022, so far, contained a traction battery and by 2030, sales of new vehicles with a combustion engine will be banned altogether. In just 10 years’ time, a deluge of tens of thousands of tonnes of batteries will be reaching end of life and require recycling. My job is to prepare the UK for such an inevitability, and develop next generation recycling technologies, with sustainability as the focal point.
So, how did I end up in battery recycling? It’s a question I get asked a lot. I was always going to be a researcher – I think I was born for it. Continuing onto a PhD after my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering was a natural course of action. Chemical engineering is a brilliant gateway into a wide variety of topics as it is applicable to almost any industry. I have a keen interest in the effects of energy on society, so a PhD in Hydrogen and Fuel Cells at the University of Birmingham was just the ticket. In 2015, I finished the PhD and had just returned from a six-month stint in Germany working for the Fraunhofer Institute, a world-leading applied research organisation.
I then took on a role focusing on the recycling of lithium-ion batteries with Axion Recycling. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I haven’t looked back.
My job at Axion was created through the AMPLiFII project which was led by WMG at the University of Warwick. The aim was to design and build an automated battery module assembly line. Though Axion was a small partner in the project, our input was significant and helped to steer the consortium at critical decision points. During AMPLiFII, I developed a scalable battery recycling process with a high recovery efficiency. My research is focused on scalability and the Battery Recycling Group undertakes a detailed analysis of any research we do, making sure that it is scalable and not just a scientific endeavour.
After Axion, I worked at European Metal Recycling, one of the largest recycling companies in the world and then finally moved to WMG, I am currently working with a host of industrial partners on the RECOVAS project, which I helped to propose and write. RECOVAS will install the necessary infrastructure for dealing with end-of-life electric vehicles in the UK and develop best practices for battery handling, storage, transportation and of course, recycling. We have recently opened up a Battery Recycling Scale Up Facility at the University where we are tackling some of the most challenging issues in the field. The centre allows us to prove processes on a kilogramme scale, giving us and our industrial partners, the confidence needed to scale the process up further.
Battery recycling is a two-stage process, the first part involves shredding and material separation, where a product or a material is broken down into smaller pieces, allowing for it to be separated into different material streams. The second part is the hydrometallurgical recovery, where the materials (mainly metals) are refined to a high purity, enabling them to go back into new batteries. WMG was instrumental in developing the UK’s shredding and material separation capabilities, and we are now working to develop the hydrometallurgical capabilities. Some of the processes we are creating will transform the battery recycling industry and enable thousands of tonnes of material to re-enter the market. For example, our lithium recycling process can recycle up to 96% of the lithium in cells at battery grade purity using only water. Recycling is now more critical than ever, with new legislation coming in which will force manufacturers to use recycled content in new cells.
The University of Warwick is a great place to work, and WMG gives me the flexibility of carrying out industrially relevant work whilst applying academic rigour. I am surrounded by amazing individuals who I can always rely upon to develop thoughts and ideas. Together, I am sure we will continue to create world leading battery recycling technologies that will help us move closer to a sustainable future.
For further information on WMG’s research in this area, please visit: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/wmg/research/energy/