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Benefits of “offline programming”

Simulation environments have been widely used in robotics for demonstration and planning purposes. This typically takes place within a simulation software or any other platform that can replicate the robot’s dynamics, workspace and surrounding environment, and enable robotic programming. This replication system has proved to be cost- and time-efficient due to a series of advantages: no risk of disrupting the production by removing the robot from the production line, high flexibility allowing infinite number of configurations on a virtual model of the robot, reduced risk of equipment damage due to high predictability of malfunctions. For instance, operational industrial robots can be tested in a simulation environment before deployment. This process is often referred to as “offline programming”.

Researchers at Department of Engineering Sciences, University of Agder have been designing a simulator within a virtual environment to visualise and test various demanufacturing approaches for battery packs, allowing them to collect necessary data such as process duration, disassembly tools – all without the need of physical experiments. This innovative exploration not only streamlines data gathering but can also help identify and remove unforeseen bottlenecks in the disassembly process.

Environment configuration and use case application for battery pack demanufacturing

Using a simulation environment, known for its high-fidelity graphical capabilities, researchers at UiA were able to create a controlled virtual space ideal for visualising complex robotic processes and interactions related to demanufacturing electric vehicle (EV) batteries. The robotic cell design is decomposed across all the subtasks/segments of the disassembly process, with specific consideration to safety aspects and optimised efficiency and accessibility of robotic manipulators.

In order to study in depth and to demonstrate the efficacy of a proposed fully automated demanufacturing line, researchers at UiA meticulously recreated a virtual environment where they simulated the disassembly of a an EV battery pack. This simulation encompasses the entire process from automated discharging to the disassembly of packs into modules, subsequent characterisation, sorting, and finally, the disassembly of modules into individual cells. All elements of the simulation are animated using the simulation platform and a robotic operating system code, providing a holistic view of the potential automation within the demanufacturing process.

For this particular use case, researchers at UiA have calculated the time individually for each disassembly operation, reaching roughly between 12 and 14 minutes for the entire process.

The findings of this research that replicated the complete demanufacturing of EV LiB pack in a virtual, yet realistic industrial setting, illustrate the leverage of automated processes over conventional approaches conventionally relying on manual techniques. The simulation provides estimates for operation time for a given disassembly procedure (disassembly sequence and disassembly process). Upcoming steps will involve AI to generate and optimise the procedures. Additionally, the simulation can identify solutions to minimise human exposure to potential hazards associated with battery disassembly processes. Future in depth and multidisciplinary research is required to optimise the disassembly sequences and process in the simulated environment by training reinforcement learning agents and including a collision avoidance system, to name a few.

Ultimately, the aim of this research is to anticipate the increasing number of EV batteries that will be decommissioned soon, and to ensure a proper management of waste, while recovering all the resources available in clean mobility technologies.

Discover UiA’s previous activities

© Photo: Adobe

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During the past years, the increase in the use of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) has become more prominent. An unsurprising trend, whatsoever, due to the widespread and rapid adoption of clean mobility applications, electronic devices, and energy storage systems. Despite their undeniable environmental and social benefits, several challenges lie ahead. In 2022, global lithium demand exceeded the supply despite an 180% increase, IEA reports. Recent communications already forecast the demand of lithium (Li) is expected to soar over the next decade, with mobility accounting for the main consuming market.

The current supply of primary resources is deemed insufficient for the growing demand. Approximately 60% of today’s lithium is mined for battery-related applications, a figure that could reach 95 percent by 2030, McKinsey reports estimate. But this rapid increase in the use of LIBs in EVs will introduce a large quantity of spent batteries in the near future. The alternatives to manage spent batteries include remanufacturing, repurposing and recycling, with the latter one playing a significant role from both ecologic and economic points of view.

Current recycling processes lack selectivity in recovery control and require significant consumption of reagents and energy. The research conducted by the RHINOCEROS partners at Sapienza University of Rome (UoS), Department of Chemistry, aims to develop an electrochemical process for selective extraction of Li from electrodic powder of end-of-life (EoL) LIBs. This concept simulates the charging process of a LIB with an aqueous electrolyte and a cathode material (counter electrode) that facilitates water reduction. The hydroxyls freed by water reduction and the Li + cations deintercalated by the anode will form a LiOH solution.

Using two samples – a commercial powder, respectively one coming from EoL LIBs, and testing the delithiation process using various parametres, UoS researchers obtained:

  • Li extraction of 99% from commercial powder
  • Li extraction of 82% from waste powder

The lower Li extraction on EoL electrode powders compared to commercial ones is due to the presence of SuperP [a high purity and structured carbon black powder with a moderate surface area for the lithium-ion industry], which oxidises under delithiation conditions.

Discover the scientific publication

Europe stands at a turning point in its journey towards establishing a competitive European value chain for batteries. Important steps have been taken in encouraging battery manufacturing plants, only to mention here the inauguration of the first gigafactory by Northvolt in Sweden. Yet, the market demand for batteries continues to surge, fueled not only by the electric vehicle sector but also by other mobility applications and stationary storage needs. The recently launched  Quarterly EU Electricity Market Report Q3 ’23 indicates over 600,000 new battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were registered in Q3 ’23, 36% higher than the corresponding quarter in 2022 and counting for 24% market share.

In response to these record demands, the European batteries research and innovation (R&I) community has been dedicated to supporting the establishment of this industrial value chain in Europe, aided by public funding, including by the European Union. Various R&I projects under the umbrella of the BATT4EU Partnership (established under Horizon Europe Programme in 2021), RHINOCEROS included, are sharing forces within the Cluster Hub “Production of materials for batteries from European resources” to address common challenges.

Motivated by the global geopolitical developments, the strategic role batteries play in achieving Green Deal objectives and the ever-evolving nature of battery technologies, Europe recognises the critical need for strategic alignment among stakeholders. Replacing the BATT4EU SRIA of 2021 and the Batteries Europe SRA of 2020, the 2024 SRIA outlines key strategic actions that the European Batteries R&I Community will undertake to advance collaborative research projects facilitated by the BATT4EU Partnership. Different from the previous strategic agendas, the 2024 roadmap goes beyond specific chemistries, leveraging also the power of disruptive (digital) technologies to advance research across all battery types, including material science, manufacturing and recycling processes.
The new agenda draws on the roadmaps published by Batteries Europe and Battery 2030+, compiling inputs from numerous European battery experts, offering recommendations on short, medium, and long-term objectives. It emphasises the need for coordinated action not only at the European level but also within national and regional programmes.

The 2024 SRIA points to the following six imperatives which are necessary to set the foundations and support a competitive battery value chain in Europe:

• Ensure that (BATT4EU) research results reach gigafactories and the markets, through pilots, demonstrators and improved decision making aided by digital tools.
• Increase the strategic autonomy of Europe by reducing the reliance on foreign critical raw materials by supporting local and circular supply chains and support research into different battery chemistries, including sodium-ion technologies.
• Improve battery affordability to accelerate the green transition and keep the European industry competitive by improving batteries based on materials that are more abundant and pushing for better integration into end-use applications.
• Improve the flexibility of battery manufacturing and recycling systems to reduce lock-in effects and respond quickly to changes in a rapidly developing industry.
• Implement a safe and sustainable by design framework for batteries, which plays to European strengths, and which will help reduce emissions and use of substances of concern, improve safety and allow for the integration of smart functionalities.
• Support the continuity of excellent European battery research and academic-industrial cooperation by improving access to research facilities and pilot lines, use research projects to build up a skilled workface, and by avoiding gaps in research through continued funding, which will bind talented researchers to Europe.

Download the 2024 SRIA

Interested in finding out more information about the recently released SRIA?

BATT4EU Partnership is organising a webinar on 20 March 2024, between 10:00 and 11:30 Brussels time. The aim is to present the official document and to host engaging discussions with the experts behind this publication who will explain how this document will redefine the dynamics for the European battery sector.
Register here

RHINOCEROS attending Shifting Economy Week

From 21 to 25 November 2023, the city of Brussels hosted the Shifting Economy Week, an annual event dedicated to showcasing transformative projects that aim to pave the way to an economy that is low-carbon, regenerative, and equally circular. The 2023 exhibitors’ line-up included, among other regional stakeholders, our partner Watt4Ever (W4E), industrial partner specialised in the development of innovative solutions for energy storage and management. W4E leveraged its presence at Shifting Economy Week to to raise awareness about the importance of circular economy principles in the context of the battery industry.

During the same event, W4E’s CEO, Aimilios Orfanos, was invited to speak at the BeCircular conference, an event dedicated to presenting concrete examples of circular economy approaches put in place by Brussels-based companies. He shared insights from W4E’s experience in developing second-life battery systems for electric vehicles, emphasising their potential benefits in terms of environmental impact and cost savings. Simultaneously, the CEO also highlighted the challenges faced by the industry in implementing circular business models, including regulatory barriers and market incentives.

Photo showing a conference room with participants listening to the presentation about circularity in battery production, use and disposal, delivered by Aimilios Orfanos, CEO of Watt4Ever, Belgian company specialised in the development of innovative solutions for energy storage and management.

RHINOCEROS at its second participation at Circular Wallonia Days

A few days after attending Shifting Economy Week, W4E represented the RHINOCEROS project at the Circular Wallonia Days, held on 13 and 14 December 2023. Centred around advancing the circularity of the batteries value chain, the event brought together stakeholders from academia, industry, and government to discuss strategies for improving the sustainability of battery production, use, and disposal. The focus topics covered recycling technologies, supply chain transparency, and policy measures to support the transition to a circular battery economy.

© Photo credits: Watt4Ever

Despite a different objective, the RHINOCEROS project partners have shown growing interest in the Digital Battery Passport, an initiative of FREE4LIB, a sister project from the Cluster Hub “Production of raw materials for batteries from European resources”. This collaboration shows our commitment to contributing to the European battery community through the exchange of knowledge and experience.

The FREE4LIB workshop had a three-fold objective, including a brief presentation of the preliminary results of the battery passport concept development, the outline of the implementation challenges and potential follow-ups of industrial scale-up, and the clear differentiation between battery second use (B2U) versus recycling. The event drew approximately 50 participants from various segments of the battery value chain, which ensured a comprehensive and multifaceted perspective of the subject matter.

The introductive session presented the FREE4LIB project, briefly highlighting past achievements and focusing mainly on the remaining activities outlined in the workplan. The following session was led by Julius Ott (industrial engineer with expertise in circular economy at Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz). During the past year, researchers at Univ. of Graz worked on finalising data collection and processing related to the development of a data model of the digital passport platform which aims to close the information gap between beginning-of-life (BoL) and end-of-life (EoL) battery lifetime. This interactive session turned out to be an appropriate opportunity for researchers at Univ. of Graz to present the outcomes of their data collection and handling, and to evaluate their relevance within the reality portrayed by the workshop attendees.

Participants, predominantly familiarised with the EU-funded battery projects, confirmed the findings reported by Univ. of Graz. However, they also raised concerns about data sharing. The outcomes of the interactive session, complementing prior research, will serve as valuable guidance for the FREE4LIB project in implementing the battery passport within their project.

Download workshop results

For additional background information on the digital passport developed by FREE4LIB, please refer to previous articles.

On Thursday, 16 November, during the 2023 edition of the Raw Materials Week, the twelve EU funded projects that constitute the Cluster Hub ‘Materials for batteries’ gathered for their annual event in Brussels.

The Cluster Hub has been initiated last year during the 7th edition of the Raw Materials Week. The main objective of the meeting was to meet and discuss the latest developments in the participating projects as well as the new challenges and opportunities discovered through the projects’ lifetime. Nader Akil, Operations Manager at PNO Innovation, inaugurated this second edition outlining the motivation behind the hub’s establishment. He underlined the positive reception and sustained interest from various stakeholders keen on joining this initiative.

Discover and/or rediscover the first edition of the Cluster Hub workshop

Co-organised by RELiEFEXCEEDENICON and RAWMINA, the event was also the opportunity to welcome the four new members of the Cluster (EXCEEDRAWMINAMETALLICO and CRM-geothermal). the workshop gathered nearly 100 organisations driving the production and the recycling of raw materials for battery applications from primary and secondary resources.

Building on the initial objective of creating an environment that could foster knowledge exchange on different approaches for the recycling and recovery for battery applications, the event focused on three major topics that depict the transversality characterising the projects: the raw materials through research and science, the roles and challenges of industry and market for raw materials, and the raw materials under the scope of sustainability, durability and social acceptance. During this annual meeting, an interactive session led by Anish Patil from TechConcepts and representing the RELiEF project had the objective of Mapping the European battery material recycling landscape – more details to be found below, in the section referring to the interactive session.

Research and science unlocking new opportunities in raw materials

The first session was moderated by Sonia Matencio from LEITAT, representing the RAWMINA project. This session had the objective of discussing the raw materials through research and science, under the scopes of mining, refining, processing as well as the battery data. Sonia introduced this topic under the scope of RAWMINA, explaining the integrated innovative pilot system for Critical Raw Materials recovery from mine waste in a circular economy context. To this end, Christophe Aucher, from LEITAT as well, highlighted the need on an open battery passport system to better reflect and account for any adaptations that might be required due to the changing regulatory landscape.

Sonia welcomed afterward Brecht Dewulf from KU LEUVEN and representing ENICON, who discussed the sustainable processing of Europe’s low grade sulphidic and lateritic Ni/Co ores and tailings into battery grade metals. The idea behind this was to show all the potential of Ni/Co resources for Europe.

Xochitl Dominguez from VITO concentrated her speech on gas-diffusion electrocrytallisation (GDEx), a crucial topic for the projects LiCORNE and RHINOCEROS she works with. GDEx is an electrochemical process of reactive precipitation of metals in solution with oxidising or reducing agents produced in-situ by the electrochemical reduction of a gas, in a gas-diffusion electrode. This was followed by Katrin Kieling from GFZ Potsdam, working there for the CRM-geothermal project and shortly explained the challenges of extracting critical raw materials from geothermal fluids. To conclude this first session, Sandra Pavón from Fraunhofer IKTS explained the demonstration of battery metals recovery from primary and secondary resources through a sustainable processing methodology in the METALLICO project.

Discover presentations from Session 1

Insights from stakeholder perspectives: Interactive session on key EU Policies and priorities

The annual meeting followed its course with an interactive session led by Anish Patil, which scrutinised stakeholders’ perspectives on the Green Deal Industrial Plan, Net Zero Industrial Act, Critical Raw Materials Act and the European Battery Regulation 2023. Mentimeter facilitated this interactive session, engaging the audience to explore how these policies intersect, complement each other, and identify critical measures and incentives for achieving their objectives.

Over 30 persons participated in the live-poll proposed, which results display the priority to be set on funding and state aid regarding ranking the four pillars of the Green Deal Industrial Plan in order of relevance (followed by skills development, conductive regulation, and open and fair trade). Another major topic regarding the stimulation of investment in net Zero technologies, the majority of answers placed the ‘enhanced skills’ as first priority, shortly followed by facilitating the access to the market.

Lastly, the participants were divided regarding the critical measures to implement in the EU to stimulate investment in building domestic capacities for extraction of critical raw materials (CRMs). Although the majority opted for ‘cutting red-tape and accelerated permitting’, approximately half of the answers evoked uncertainty, which emphasised one more time the need to engage with policy makers as external stakeholders in all projects.

Navigating the nexus: industry challenges, market dynamics, social acceptance and sustainability

This interactive workshop was followed by two sessions, which aimed at discussing the challenges and opportunities of raw materials within the frame of industry and market, as well as the social acceptance, sustainability, and durability.

Alan Gonzalez from PNO Innovation Begium, representing LiCORNE, moderated the industry part, whereas Sam Hoefman from RELiEF moderated the last session on social acceptance, sustainability, and durability. Distinguished panellists took the stage to engage in debates on various topics.

Edvarts Emerson, Production and Testing Engineer at Watt4Ever, presented his work on the benchmark depository of 2nd life use of lithium in batteries, acceptance criteria and guidelines, work developed within the RHINOCEROS project. Benjamin Wilson, representing the RESPECT Project, displayed Aalto University’s work advancing efficient, sustainable, innovative and safe battery recycling processes in the EU. Laura Kainiemi from LUT University, representing the RELiEF Project, Konstantinos Komnitsas from the Technical University of Crete (TUC), on behalf of EXCEED, and Vitor Correia from INTRAW for the CRM-geothermal project, collectively debated the role and impact of social acceptance among affected communities, the importance of triggering new dialogues on responsible mining activities, and the joint involvement of regional, national and European authorities, academia, industry partners, and citizens in shaping these initiatives.

A big thank you to all participants for this co-creative and very constructive and inspiring meeting.

Discover presentations from Session 2

Discover presentations from Session 3

Part of the Cluster Hub “Production of raw materials for batteries from European resources”, the RHINOCEROS consortium received the online visit of FREE4LIB representatives during the second day of the Consortium meeting held in Gothenburg. This initiative including stakeholders involved in different European R&D initiatives goes beyond building a knowledge exchange ecosystem to address common topics related to EU-funded projects; it paves new collaboration routes and synergies aiming at driving innovations for the recycling of batteries and the production of raw materials for battery applications from primary and secondary resources available in Europe.

Represented by Julius Ott (industrial engineer with expertise in circular economy at Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz) and Pau Sanchis (senior policy officer Eurobat), the FREE4LIB presentation focused mainly on the Digital Battery passport and the relevant legislative situation at European level.

Pau Sanchis referred to the Digital Battery Passport in the context of the new regulation on batteries and waste batteries which entered into force on 17 August 2023.  According to this update, thoroughly explained in Art. 77, the battery passport should contain information “relating to the battery model and information specific to individual battery, including resulting from the use of that battery”.

“Batteries should be labelled in order to provide end-users with transparent, reliable and clear information about batteries and waste batteries. That information would enable end-users to make informed decisions when buying and discarding batteries and waste operators to appropriately treat waste batteries. Batteries should be labelled with all the necessary information concerning their main characteristics, including their capacity and the amount of certain hazardous substances present. To ensure the availability of information over time, that information should also be made available by means of QR codes which are printed or engraved on batteries or are affixed to the packaging and to the documents accompanying the battery and should respect the guidelines of ISO/IEC Standard 18004:2015. The QR code should give access to a battery’s product passport. Labels and QR codes should be accessible to persons with disabilities, in accordance with Directive (EU) 2019/882 of the European Parliament and of the Council (17).”

The policy officer emphasised the role of the standardisation process on the Battery Passport, which requires the Commission to adopt implementing decision requesting European Standardisation Organisation to develop standards in support of Ecodesign by December 2023. Standards regarding the technical design and operation of the Battery Passport are expected to complement provisions under Art. 78. According to the timeline presented in the regulation, the first application of the battery passport is expected in 2027. From 18 February 2027 onwards, “all batteries shall be marked with a QR code as described in Part C of Annex VI.

The new regulation aiming at strengthening sustainability rules for batteries and waste batteries will be supported by various secondary legislation pieces which will ensure all the requirements will be developed and implemented effectively. The QR code shall provide access to the following:

  • for light means of transport (LMT) batteries, industrial batteries with a capacity greater than 2kWh and electric vehicles batteries, the battery passport in accordance with Article 77.
  • for other batteries, the applicable information referred to in paragraphs 1 to 5 of this Article, the declaration of conformity referred to in Article 18, the report referred to in Article 52(3) and the information regarding the prevention and management of waste batteries laid down in Article 74(1), points (a) to (f).
  • for starting, light, and ignition (SLI) batteries, the amount of cobalt, lead, lithium or nickel recovered from waste and present in active materials in the battery, calculated in accordance with Article 8.

The policy overview presentation was complemented by the technical presentation undertaken by Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, that will develop a data model of the digital battery passport platform aiming to close the information gap between beginning-of-life (BoL) and end-of-life (EoL) battery lifetime. Relying on knowledge generated previously by Univ. of Graz, the researchers set an objective to define clear user roles and establish access to certain information. Up to this moment, the work carried out has been focusing on data collection and data handling (data points sorting) on the other side. This specific work encountered various challenges, notably the users willingness to share information, process standardisation, the variety of products, the recycling cost/revenue ratio, the dynamic development of the legislative framework, to name a few.

Learn more about the progress on the battery passport on the FREE4LIB website.

The modified Black Mass (BM) obtained in Task 4.4 – Reactive milling for the production of metallic black mass (MBM), as well as the BM supplied by partner ACCUREC (ACC) were leached under different conditions to extract lithium (Li) salt.

The BM provided by ACC consists of graphite, as well as transition metals such as nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn), cobalt (Co), along with their respective oxides and impurities – copper (Cu), iron (Fe), and few fluorinated compounds. Li is present in the form of lithium carbonate [Li2CO3] and lithium aluminium oxide [LiAlO]. However, breaking off LiAlO2 to a soluble Li-salt and removing fluoride contamination is a challenging process. To overcome this, the BM was heated with calcium hydroxide in deionised water for one hour and then filtered.

Illustrated in the next figure, LiAlO2 decomposes during heating and transforms into insoluble calcium aluminium hydroxide. Dissolved fluoride anions are caught by Ca2+ ions and precipitate as calcium fluoride. The soluble part only contains Li- and Ca-salts. The latter can be transformed into calcium carbonate and removed with a second filtration step.

X-ray diffraction patterns of leaching and purification process. a) black mass supplied by ACC and treated with calcium hydroxide. b) aluminium system of modified black mass

The second BM from partner TES, obtained after ball milling, consists of graphite, the metallic composite, lithium oxide and the oxidized reducing agent, along with some impurities like Fe and fluorinated compounds.

Lithium extraction after ball milling

In the aluminium system, the extraction of lithium salt poses certain challenges. Due to the tendency of residual aluminium powder to ignite when in contact with air, this requires cautious handling. During milling lithium aluminium oxide is formed, and in the basic solution, a significant amount of aluminium hydroxide dissolves and reacts with lithium hydroxide and CO2, resulting in the formation of a poorly soluble compound called LACHH. To address this problem, the suspension is heated to 90°C to reinforce the reaction between aluminium hydroxide and lithium hydroxide. The LACHH formed can be decomposed at 350°C into insoluble aluminium oxide and soluble lithium carbonate, which can be separated through filtration.

Lithium extraction in the calcium system, on the other hand, is a relatively straightforward process. The milled powder shows low reactivity towards both oxygen and water. Scientists successfully extracted 98% of lithium from the black mass; however, calcium hydroxide was also dissolved in the process. Subsequent purification steps led to the isolation of lithium carbonate with a purity of 93% in a yield of 75%. The main impurities are shown in the figure displayed below.

In the upcoming months, researchers will work to improve the leaching conditions towards a lower reagent and water consumption, while obtaining a higher purity of resulting lithium salt and lower lithium loses during purification steps.

Impurity cations in isolated lithium carbonate from the calcium system of modified black mass

 

During the second semester, researchers from KIT further studied and improved the conditions for the mechanochemical transformation of Black Mass (BM). With the BM supplied by ACC is already in a reduced state, the focus now shifts towards reducing the BM provided by partner TES.

This BM consists mostly of nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material and graphite, and it was found to cause a longer reaction time. It is expected that the graphite exfoliates during milling and creates thin protective layers around NMC particles and the reducing agent, slowing down the reaction kinetics.

Using variations of milling parameters like ball-to-sample ratio or the type and amount of reducing agent, researchers optimised the process towards the fastest kinetics. During the investigation, no intermediate reduction to transition metal oxides in lower oxidation states was observed. However, the full reduction of the respective part to the metallic composite occurred.

The operation took place in a shaker mill, and it requested an excess of 3.3 equivalents of Aluminium (Al) towards NMC was required to attain a complete reduction within a reasonable time. This transformation was accompanied by the formation of aluminium carbide and the presence of residual fine aluminium powder which caused a  self-ignition hazard when the milled powder came into contact with air.

In contrast, when using calcium as a reactive agent, researchers observed a fast reaction but they also reported a strong dependency of reaction kinetics on calcium size. The hazard of self-ignition when exposed to air was limited in this case by using stoichiometric amounts.

In addition, the research team has been conducting preliminary experiments for the scale-up process using a planetary mill. It was observed that the choice of the milling type has a significant impact on the reaction kinetics. Attempts to crush calcium pieces proved to be unsuccessful, therefore not initiating any reaction. However, when using aluminium, reactions occurred much faster.

In the months ahead, the research team working in WP4 will continue to investigate the milling parameters for the planetary mill.

Find out more information about the activities developed in WP4 in the article Reactive milling for the production of metallic black mass (MBM) – Rhinoceros project (rhinoceros-project.eu)

Read more about the black mass leaching operations in the article Materials extraction and direct routes for the synthesis of electrode materials: Recovery of Lithium as battery grade materials