Salvaging Lithium

by Ben N on August 5, 2014

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Today, I was trying to get some cleanup done in my garage. It’s pretty hard to work on a hybrid truck or electric car when the garage is packed pretty solid with junk (although cool junk), camping equipment, and yes, even dead electric car batteries.

The Mitsubishi iMIEV batteries have been kicking around for far too long now. Some time back, I was severely disappointed when I removed the battery pack, only to have the Altantic Ocean fall out on me! I disassembled the battery pack to see if individual cells could be salvaged. While I seemed to have a bit of luck with one of the first blocks of cells, they wouldn’t hold a charge over any decent amount of time.

I finally found a salvage yard that would take lithium cells and figured it was time to get them out of here.

Salvage yards always like when you can break materials into separate groups, so I got started by stripping off the steel cages and then popping the plastic covers off the cell blocks. I tried removing the bus bars as well, but most of the nuts were so corroded that I would only break the post going to the cell instead. I was able to cut off the long bus bars and would take in the scrap copper for salvage as well.

DSC_2450After about an hour, I now had a pile of plastic, a pile of steel, a pile of copper, and a pile of rusted nuts. Off to the side were the stripped-down cell blocks, most of them still caged in groups of four. I went through with my volt meter one last time to see if anything remained from all those long batches of battery charging I had tried. To my surprise SIX cells total had some decent charge. I stripped those out and kept them. I was glad to see that more than four looked okay, because I could then rebuild them into a four-pack, and essentially make myself a lithium 12V battery to experiment with.

The salvage yard was about forty miles away. I had called the day before to confirm that they would take lithium. They did, but would only pay a pitiful ten cents per pound. *Sigh* Oh well, at least the batteries would be out of my garage. The company also had a good reputation. I knew that the cells wouldn’t end up in the garbage or get cracked open by children in Third-World countries.

So, I piled the cells into the back of the truck and headed off to the salvage yard.

When I arrived, I checked in at the office. The office woman welcomed me, then said she would let the guys know I was here, and sent me around to a side dock door. Inside, workers in hard-hats were sorting through computers, telephones, and other electronics. One of the guys grabbed a forklift and pallet and pulled up to my tailgate. With a piece of cardboard in place over the pallet, we loaded up the cells, which came to almost exactly fill the pallet.

I filled out some paperwork and headed back to the office. Inside, I had to wait a bit, and there was a little confusion over what chemistry the cells were, but I walked away with a check for thirty-two dollars. 320 pounds of lithium cells for $.10 a pound. Not exactly the gold mine I was hoping for, but at least the cells are happily on their way to get recycled.

Who knows, maybe some day that same lithium will end up in a Tesla. At least I know it’s not going down the drain or ending up in a landfill.

Til next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jay August 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Wow Ben, this is the first I’ve heard of anybody paying for dead lithium. I suspect they were confused. BUT, there is a startup in Oregon that has successfully recycled Li-Ion batteries, more than can be said for Toxco in Trail, BC (who’s specialty seems to be stockpiling lithium batteries until the next fire).
http://www.bendbulletin.com/home/2210495-151/bend-company-set-to-license-technology

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