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Anna Vanderbruggen

Anna Vanderbruggen has been a doctoral student at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) since 2019. The HIF is the result of a cooperation between the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. At the same time, she works as a scientist for ERZLABOR GmbH, a spin-off of the HIF. Anna Vanderbruggen studied process engineering at the Ecole National Supérieure de Géologie in Nancy. She then completed her master's degree as part of the Emerald Erasmus Mundus master's program. Already in her Master's she focused on research on recycling of graphite from lithium-ion batteries, which is still the core of her research today. Her research is part of the ecoLiga large-scale project, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. We asked Anna Vanderbruggen a few questions in an interview about her research and what drives her.


What are you working on right now?

Anna Vanderbruggen: Since 2018, I have been working on the further development of recycling methods for lithium-ion batteries. My focus is on the recycling of the contained graphite. Existing recycling methods for lithium-ion batteries focus on valuable components such as cobalt. Graphite, on the other hand, is not recycled, even though it is a critical raw material, as well. Just as an example, the battery of an electric car contains 6kg of lithium, 30kg of cobalt and 100kg of graphite. The graphite we are talking about cannot be compared to the graphite in a pencil. The graphite for the batteries has a particularly high quality and is expensive - about 10000€/t. This graphite is produced in an energy-intensive process usually outside Europe. Currently, over 90% of the graphite comes from China. As part of my PhD thesis, I developed an innovative process that can be directly integrated into the current recycling process. This process can be applied to all types of lithium-ion batteries.

What drives you personally?

Anna Vanderbruggen: During my work in the Emerald Erasmus Mundus Masterprogram, I have become aware of the importance of raw materials to society and the challenges posed by their limited availability. Graphite, for example, has been considered a critical raw material in Europe for years and is essential for the production of lithium-ion batteries. The fact that this raw material is not recycled drove me to develop a process for it. I had the opportunity to develop the topic of my master thesis myself and started research on this new process. It was exciting to apply my theoretical knowledge to something completely new.

What challenges do you see for yourself in the near future?

Anna Vanderbruggen: A big challenge for my work is the very rapid evolution of the material composition of lithium-ion batteries.

What would you like to see for your research in the future?

Anna Vanderbruggen: I would like to work more closely with battery manufacturers to develop a complete recycling loop. The problem with by-products is that their recycling is not taken into account when the products are developed. Often, new components are added after the fact to increase performance. However, these can have a negative impact on the existing recycling process. For this reason, the design of a product is essential to developing an efficient recycling process and building a circular economy.

Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?

Anna Vanderbruggen: A few years ago, it was difficult to make myself heard when I talked about recycling graphite in lithium-ion batteries. At that time, the interest was only on cobalt and nickel. No one recognized the value of graphite back then. The new European specifications for batteries require a higher recycled content. This makes it necessary to recover a greater variety of materials from the batteries, including graphite. This will force the industry to rethink. I hope that in a few years, the industry will use the process to recycle graphite from lithium-ion batteries.

In the future, we will have to deal with new types of batteries (for example, lithium-sulfur batteries). I hope that the recycling process of these products will be considered during their development. We should first check if the product can be recycled before we put it on the market!

ORCID: 0000-0003-4092-4374