Emerson Tech To Automate Lithium-ion Recycling Plant
SungEel HiTech Co. has selected Emerson as a supplier of advanced automation technologies for its lithium-ion battery recycling plant in Gunsan, South Korea.
Emerson will supply advanced automation solutions for SungEel HiTech’s largest lithium-ion battery recycling facility at its Gunsan Hydro Center complex in South Korea. The plant will be the third at the Gunsan complex and employ Emerson’s latest automation technologies to advance the efficiency of its battery recycling operations.
Emerson globe valves in an industrial facility. Image used courtesy of Emerson
Efficient battery recycling is essential to the continued growth of the electrical vehicle (EV) market that relies almost exclusively on lithium-ion battery technologies to power vehicle drivetrains.
SungEel HiTech’s Battery Recycling
SungEel HiTech entered the secondary battery recycling market in 2008 with its internally developed secondary battery scrap processing technology incorporating high-purity cobalt metal manufacturing and manganese separation technology.
EV lithium-ion battery recycling. Image used courtesy of SungEel HiTech
The company operates recycling facilities across nine global locations, including U.S. locations planned for Georgia and Indiana. The Georgia facility is expected to be operational by 2024, with the Indiana facility scheduled to commence operations in 2025.
The Korean-based facility will be part of the company’s Gunsan Hydro Center. It will be the third plant in the complex and three times larger than the existing two facilities.
With the added capacity, the complex will be able to process sufficient raw materials to support the production of batteries for up to 400,000 EVs per year, all sourced from recycled materials.
For its battery recycling operations, SungEel HiTech uses a proprietary variant of hydrometallurgical processing widely used across China and South Korea, where most lithium-ion batteries are currently manufactured.
Hydrometallurgy is a process that involves three main steps—pretreatment, leaching, and metal deposition.
Battery recycling using hydrometallurgical processing. Image used courtesy of United Nations
Pretreatment begins with fully discharging the battery. The battery then goes through a mechanical process that physically separates the anode and cathode materials. The result is a powder called “black mass” that contains a mixture of important battery raw materials.
After pretreatment, a combination of strong organic and inorganic acids and reducing agents are used to leach and isolate individual metals from the mix. In the final step, metals are deposited using a chemical or electrochemical process to produce the finished materials that can then be used to construct new batteries.
Emerson Automation Technologies
Battery recycling requires a complex process involving precision steps executed with sophisticated machinery and advanced materials.
For its new and largest plant, SungEel HiTech will use Emerson’s advanced instrumentation and sensor and valve solutions to measure and control system parameters like flow, level, pressure, and pH within the automated recycling process.
According to ChenFai Chung, vice president and general manager for Emerson in North Asia, automation technologies are essential to improving process efficiencies and productivity within the rapidly growing battery recycling market.
The Circular Economy
A circular economy keeps raw materials and resources in use for as long as possible. In a circular economy, materials used for manufacturing products, like batteries, are recaptured from the product waste material to be used in future products.
For the lithium-ion batteries that power most EVs, a circular approach is particularly important to ensure continued access to the rare earth and other materials essential to sustainably supporting a growing EV industry.
EV lithium-ion battery demand growth by region. Image used courtesy of IEA
According to the International Energy Agency, lithium-ion battery demand for EVs increased by 65% from 2021 to 2022, primarily from the growth in sales of passenger EVs.
To meet growing demand, EV battery manufacturers must conserve materials and develop new battery designs that offer higher densities using fewer raw materials.