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Investigation of the primary production routes of nickel and cobalt products used for Li-ion batteries

: Schmidt, T.; Buchert, M.; Schebek, Liselotte


Resources, conservation and recycling 112 (2016), S.107-122
ISSN: 0921-3449
Fraunhofer ISC ()
active cathode materials; analysis; battery; cathodes; chemical composition; cobalt; cobalt hydroxide; cobalt mines; cobalt oxide; controlled study; crashworthiness; electric batteries; electric vehicle; electrodes; environmental impact; environmental impact assessment; environmental technology; ferronickel; ions; Life Cycle; life cycle analysis; Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); literature researches; lithium; lithium alloys; lithium cobalt oxide; lithium compounds; Lithium Ion; lithium-ion batteries; manganese oxide; material flow analysis; Nickel; nickel limonite; nickel oxide sinter; nickel pig iron; nickel sulfate; nickel sulfide; processing; production route; secondary batteries; static material flow analysis; technical performance; trade flow; uncertainty; unclassified drug; vehicles

Lithium-ion batteries are crucial components of electric vehicles with respect to the technical performance of the vehicles and the environmental impacts of the vehicle life cycle. Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of lithium-ion batteries have shown that the nature of the active cathode materials significantly influences the environmental impacts of the battery. Notably, cathode materials based on nickel and cobalt, like nickel manganese cobalt (NMC), nickel cobalt aluminum (NCA) and lithium cobalt oxide (LCO), have been identified to be associated with largest environmental burdens. The main contribution to these environmental impacts comes from upstream processes related to the extraction and beneficiation of nickel and cobalt. However, a variety of production routes originating from different ore types for both metals exists; they may vary considerably with respect to the environmental impacts due to technology and the location of production sites. Against this background, we investigated the current production systems of nickel and cobalt products as well as possible future developments based on extensive literature research and expert interviews. We identified those specific nickel and cobalt products which are used for the production of lithium-ion batteries and the production routes they originate from. We compiled process chains for the most frequent technology routes, from which we identified production sites and interconnecting product flows. In addition, we derived global flow charts for the respective nickel and cobalt products. Based on static Material Flow Analysis (MFA), we finally derived the current production shares of the routes of lithium-ion batteries. We discussed our results notably with respect to economic dynamics including possible future shifts in the shares of global production. Our results complement existing studies with in-depth information on up-stream processes of nickel and cobalt production and show global locations of production sites related to the different stages of production processes which provides basic information for an improved environmental impact assessment.