About the project
SOLVOLi is Prof. Koen Binnemans’ ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) project on “Solvometallurgy for battery-grade refining of lithium”. The project started on October 1, 2020 and has a duration of 18 months. The received budget for this project is € 150,000. ERC PoC SOLVOLi targets to develop and pre-demonstrate a breakthrough solvometallurgical flowsheet for lithium refining via LiCl, bypassing the Li2CO3 step, directly generating battery-grade LiOH∙H2O.
To allow the rollout of e-mobility and stationary renewable energy storage in Europe, a secure, affordable and sustainable supply of battery-grade lithium salts for Li-ion batteries (LIBs) is key. However, Europe’s lithium supply chain is extremely vulnerable: Europe’s primary lithium resources (present as “hard rock”) are underexploited and, even if lithium would be mined domestically, there is no lithium refining capacity available in Europe to process the lithium into battery-grade lithium salts, i.e. Li2CO3 and LiOH (with the latter being vital for the emerging Li-ion NMC battery chemistries with lower Co and enriched Ni content). Concurrently, the state of the art Li2CO3 refining methods (cf. China, Latin America…) come with a large eco-footprint, while the conventional conversion of Li2CO3 to the coveted LiOH generates vast volumes of waste and introduces new impurities.
Based on an innovation developed in the PI’s ERC Advanced Grant SOLCRIMET, SOLVOLi aims to develop the Proof of Concept for a disruptive, solvometallurgical flowsheet for the production, via LiCl, of LiOH. As this flowsheet allows to bypass the Li2CO3 step, SOLVOLi lowers the overall water, energy, CO2 and reagent footprint of LiOH production. Apart from validating and pre-demonstrating the novel flowsheet, SOLVOLi comprises a thorough IPR and upscaling strategy, in close collaboration with EU-based companies. SOLVOLi takes advantage of the fact that most of their decisions on lithium refining investments in Europe still need to be made, opening the door for the commercialisation of the new SOLVOLi process.
Application of this flowsheet contributes to building up the urgently needed lithium refining capacity in Europe for both domestic lithium (hard rocks & slags from pyrometallurgical LIB recycling) and imported lithium resources. As such, SOLVOLi facilitates the EC’s strategic battery value chain ambitions (COM(2019)176)) and supports A New Industrial Strategy for Europe (COM(2020)102).
ERC PoC SOLVOLi team
- Koen Binnemans (PI, ERC AdG SOLCRIMET) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Peter Tom Jones (IOF Innovation Manager) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Zheng Li (Lithium expert) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Dzenita Avdibegovic (Ion exchange expert) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Clio Deferm (Solvent extraction expert) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Ward Caytan (Research Associate SX) (SOLVOMET KU Leuven)
- Karel Van Acker (LCA expert) (SAM KU Leuven)
- Jean Paul Gueneau de Mussy (Innovation Expert) (KU Leuven representative in European Lithium Institute)
ERC PoC SOLVOLi aims to bring the proposed LiCl -> battery-grade LiOH process to TRL5, making the technology ready for a demonstration project (TRL6-7). The SOLVOLi technology will be promoted to the different stakeholders in Europe (Li hard rock mining, Li-ion battery recycling) and Latin America (Li extraction from brines). Companies interested in the SOLVOLi technology (and the associated patent application) can contact Dr. Peter Tom Jones (SOLVOMET KU Leuven) for further information.
SOLVOLi received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme: Grant Agreement 963281 — Solvometallurgy for battery-grade refining of lithium (SOLVOLi).