Each year, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) celebrates the entrepreneurial and societal achievements of its innovators. They are honored with the EIT Awards in four categories: CHANGE, Innovators, Venture and Women Leadership. Anna Vanderbruggen received the CHANGE Award for her innovative method on graphite recycling from used lithium-ion batteries. That´s also the topic of her PhD thesis she is working on at the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF), an institute of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
Vanderbruggen developed a revolutionary new way to extract valuable graphite from used lithium-ion batteries. Her method, the first of its kind, separates the fine powder from crushed lithium-ion batteries into two valuable products instead of one. This process enables the efficient and highly selective recycling of both graphite and metals from used lithium-ion batteries. “My approach uses the method of froth flotation, which is proven in the raw materials industry, to recycle graphite. Froth flotation is an established and efficient process for separating valuable minerals from waste rock for particle sizes of about 10 to 200 micrometer. Graphite usually represents 15% - 25% of the battery’s weight. By recovering the graphite in addition to the 50% of metals which is already possible – recyclers can meet the EU's 70% materials recycling requirement, which will apply from 2030 onwards,” Vanderbruggen explains.
The objective is a truly circular battery supply chain, one that will help decrease the environmental footprint of battery production and the reliance on raw materials imports from outside the EU. Beside her work for the HIF Anna is part of the EIT RawMaterials-supported start-up Erzlabor, which characterizes materials and analyzes complex resources. “This EIT competition was an amazing experience! It was an opportunity to promote my research to another level and also to meet great people!“, Vanderbruggen says delighted. The award is also very important for the HZDR, because "Anna Vanderbruggen's success demonstrates the topicality of the research conducted at the HZDR. On the other hand, it stands for the enormous potential of young researchers. Her award makes us proud and we congratulate wholeheartedly," says Prof. Sebastian M. Schmidt, Scientific Director of the HZDR.
The CHANGE Award acknowledges top graduates from EIT entrepreneurial education programmes. As Anna is a graduate from the EIT Emerald master´s program she was nominated for the award by EIT RawMaterials. “It is exactly this level of innovation that will enable Europe to achieve the goals of the green transition and we are so proud to have supported her journey”, says Bernd Schäfer, CEO and Managing Director at EIT RawMaterials. By highlighting ground-breaking innovations, the annual EIT Awards showcase how young talents addressing some of Europe's biggest challenges.