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MSX Technology Helps Recover Critical Metals from Spent Lithium-Ion Batteries

Momentum Technologies Inc. is a materials science company based in Dallas, Texas, and is focused on recovering crucial metals from electronic waste.

ORNL’s Ramesh Bhave poses in his lab in March 2019. Bhave developed the Membrane Solvent Extraction process, which can be used to recover cobalt and other metals from spent lithium-ion batteries. Image Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Department of Energy.

The company has now licensed a process, developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), to extract cobalt and other metals from spent or discarded lithium-ion batteries.

In the United States, less than 5% of spent lithium-ion batteries are recycled. The lithium-ion batteries contain many critical elements, like lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese that fuel electric vehicles.

ORNL scientists had developed the Membrane Solvent Extraction process (MSX) as part of the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Through this process, such elements can be extracted in a highly pure form, which, in turn, can be redesigned into battery composition for new devices.

After recyclable metals and plastics are removed from end-of-life batteries, a sludgy mixture that mostly contains lithium-ion battery elements, called “black mass,” remains.

Half of the costs in lithium-ion battery recycling are in the logistics of shipping that material to processors. The MSX breakthrough allows us to build processing plants at the sources of the waste, eliminating logistics hurdles while increasing material recovery rates as compared to traditional smelters.

Preston Bryant, Founder and CEO, Momentum Technologies Inc.

The development of the MSX technology was headed by Ramesh Bhave, a senior researcher from ORNL and project leader for membrane-based rare earth elements separation supported by CMI. Bhave’s group includes Syed Islam and Priyesh Wagh, who are both post-doctoral researchers.

With electric vehicles increasingly used by consumers, designing efficient technologies to trap and reuse crucial elements from spent batteries will be crucial to maintain sufficient supply without depending on overseas mining and processing of important materials.

There is an urgent need for having a domestic resource for some of these elements. There is little to no mining, downstream refining or recycling in the U.S. for these elements and the traditional technology is quite complex and generates a lot of waste. Our technology contributes to a circular economy. We completely recycle end-of-life products without generating hazardous waste.

Ramesh Bhave, Senior Researcher, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The MSX technology can be used on a wide range of critical material recovery efforts. It uses only a small amount of energy, chemical solvents, and labor.

This technology recovers 99.9% pure lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese oxides or sulfates depending on battery materials manufacturers’ preferences and requirements. MSX is a closed-loop process; it is cheap, modular, energy efficient and produces nearly zero waste.

Preston Bryant, Founder and CEO, Momentum Technologies Inc.

Momentum Technologies has also licensed analogous technologies from ORNL to extract other rare earth elements. A facility designed for MSX technology can extract a variety of elements, ranging from batteries, magnets, and other devices. The CMI team continues to investigate the MSX technology to recover other critical materials.

The agreement was negotiated by the Technology Transfer Office at ORNL.

The initial research was funded by DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, via the Critical Materials Institute. Additional support was offered by DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund and by Momentum Technologies via a Strategic Partnership Project agreement.


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