VW-Backed Recycling Process Eliminates Black Mass From Batteries

March 28, 2024 by Shannon Cuthrell

Liforever, a battery recycling process from 24M Technologies, recovers high-value materials at a lower cost and carbon footprint.

Massachusetts-based 24M Technologies has unveiled a novel recycling process for batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems. Unlike conventional energy-intensive methods that only extract some metals from used batteries, Liforever preserves active materials in their original form and eliminates black mass waste from the end-of-life supply chain. 

24M’s technique allows all parts of a lithium-ion battery cell to be recovered and reused, from active anode materials like graphite to standard cathode chemistries, including nickel-manganese cobalt (NMC) and lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP). 


24M recently debuted a novel battery cell recycling system.

24M recently debuted a novel battery cell recycling system. Image used courtesy of 24M


Critically, Liforever eliminates the need for black mass, an intermediate fine powder used to extract lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other materials during battery production or recycling. Black mass contains high-value materials that are cheaper to reuse than acquire via risky mining operations. However, it can be costly, inefficient, and generate toxic emissions. 


24M’s direct material recycling process

24M’s direct material recycling process. Image used courtesy of 24M


24M’s recycling process is integrated into its SemiSolid lithium-ion battery manufacturing platform, which has drawn high-profile backers like German car giant Volkswagen and Japanese conglomerate FUJIFILM Corporation. 


Black Mass and Conventional Battery Recycling Processes

Battery material supply chains are facing unprecedented demand, driven by skyrocketing EV adoption and energy storage technologies. The European Commission's Raw Materials Information System estimates that by 2040, the global demand for nickel, graphite, and lithium will grow by 20, 19, and 14 times, respectively. More EV makers are turning to recycling to avoid supply shortages and other demand shocks. 

Black mass translates to around half of an EV battery’s weight. The powdery mixture is created from shredded copper, electrolytes, plastics, binders, and other components.

There are two ways to produce black mass. 

  1. Pyrometallurgical smelting applies high temperatures ranging from 1,000–2,000°C (1,832–3,632°F) to burn polymers, the leftover electrolyte, and other materials. As the decomposing materials are smelted, they supply energy and gasses to aid in transporting volatile metals like cadmium. However, this process can not recycle the graphite in the anode, and the high-temperature environment emits carbon emissions. 
  2. Hydrometallurgical processes combine water, oxygen, chemical reagents, and electricity to scrap and separate battery materials. This method is cleaner than its pyro counterpart, eliminating furnaces and inefficient processing by applying multiple chemical treatment steps under low temperatures. Still, it yields significant toxic gasses and waste. 

These processes use black mass as a feedstock and thus create toxic waste that damages anode and cathode structures. Given these disadvantages, cheaper materials like LFP are less likely to be recycled. Only expensive cobalt, nickel, and manganese are extracted from the black mass in their base metal form before rejoining active material production. 


Liforever’s Recycling Solution

24M focuses on direct material recycling, which extracts and reuses materials in battery manufacturing without conventional methods’ costly reproduction and high carbon footprint.

Liforever eliminates the damaging high temperatures needed in black mass processing by keeping active materials in their original structure. This allows producers to extract graphite anodes and different types of cathodes. The process is compatible with NMC, LFP, and lithium nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide (NCA) batteries. Once recovered, the materials can be cleaned cheaply and re-lithiated to their original capacity. 


Liforever’s voltage profiles with LFP (left) and graphite (right) materials

Liforever’s voltage profiles with LFP (left) and graphite (right) materials. Image used courtesy of 24M


Liforever’s recycling benefits are further streamlined with 24M’s SemiSolid manufacturing platform. This platform uses the electrolyte as the processing solvent to eliminate half the steps in typical cell production, like solvent recovery, drying, and electrolyte filling. SemiSolid allows manufacturers to reuse active materials directly in their plants. It supports all anode and cathode chemistries and can be retooled for different battery sizes.

24M’s SemiSolid lithium-ion design was initially developed in an MIT lab and publicly announced in 2015. It boasts high performance and a 50% cost reduction. The cell’s semi-solid thick electrode eliminates the inactive, non-charge-carrying materials typically layered within a cell’s casing. By stripping away excess material, this design could eliminate over 80% of the inactive materials and improve active layer thickness by up to five times over traditional lithium-ion battery cells. 

24M’s SemiSolid manufacturing platform and cell architecture uses ultra-thick binder-free electrodes to reduce the material costs of lithium metal cells by 25% compared to traditionally cast cathodes. 

The technology has attracted prominent strategic partners like Volkswagen, which acquired a 25% stake in 24M and created a wholly-owned subsidiary focused on leveraging the SemiSolid cell production technology for next-generation EV batteries. Fujifilm also licensed the SemiSolid platform in 2022 and invested $20 million.