DOE opens lithium-ion battery recycling center

DOE opens lithium-ion battery recycling center

Agency commissions ReCell facility at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

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February 18, 2019

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has opened a battery recycling research and development center at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois. The goal of the R&D facility is to reclaim and recycle materials such as cobalt and lithium from spent lithium-ion batteries.

The use of lithium-ion batteries has surged in recent years, starting with electronics and expanding into the growing electric and hybrid vehicle industry, says the DOE, adding that the technologies to optimize recycling of these batteries has not kept pace.

The launch of the DOE’s lithium-ion battery recycling center, called the ReCell Center, “will help the United States grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials,” says the agency.

“The ReCell Center will help expedite the pursuit to profitable lithium-ion battery recycling,” comments Jeff Spangenberger, director of the ReCell Center.

“ReCell brings our national laboratories, the private sector and universities together to develop advanced technologies that safely and cost-effectively recycle lithium-ion batteries,” says Daniel R Simmons, assistant secretary of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “This center will create jobs and create a national supply of lithium-based battery materials, as well as spur the adoption of an affordable electric vehicle economy.”

Recycled materials from lithium-ion batteries can be reused in new batteries, reducing production costs by 10 to 30 percent. This could help lower the overall cost of electric vehicle (EV) batteries closer to the DOE’s goal of $80 per kilowatt hour, says the agency.

The DOE says the ReCell Center initiative is a collaboration between Argonne; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and several universities, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, the University of California at San Diego and Michigan Technological University.

WPI has received a one-year, $150,000 contract to conduct research on the effects of impurities on the cathode materials used to make lithium-ion batteries. Yan Wang, a WPI professor of mechanical engineering who developed a process for recycling lithium-ion batteries that can recover and reuse cathode materials regardless of their chemistry, will lead the project. Battery Resourcers, a company co-founded by Wang, licensed the patented process and has established a pilot plant in Worcester to demonstrate that it can be scaled up to near-commercial capacity.

“Collaborators from across the battery supply chain, including battery manufacturers, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), recycling centers, battery life cycle management services and material suppliers, are working with the center,” says the DOE.

The ReCell Center is supported by the DOE with $15 million in funding over three years, and its work will include development of test beds and a process scale-up facility at Argonne.

The center and its collaborators will focus on four research areas designed to enable profitable lithium-ion battery recycling for industry adoption:

  • a direct cathode recycling focus will develop recycling processes that generate products that go directly back into new batteries without the need for costly reprocessing;
  • a focus to recover other materials will work to create technologies to cost-effectively recycle other battery materials, providing additional revenue streams;
  • design-for-recycling will develop new battery designs optimized to make future batteries easier to recycle; and
  • modeling and analysis tools will be developed and used to help direct an efficient path of R&D and to validate the work performed within the center.

“This is an exciting time as applications for energy storage continue to expand,” says Argonne Director Paul Kearns. “Together, DOE and Argonne have made pivotal discoveries in advanced materials, chemistry and engineering that have made batteries safer and longer lasting. We are proud to pioneer the first scaleup and pilot test facilities to enable cost-effective battery recycling, helping to drive U.S. prosperity and security.”

The DOE also announced it is kicking off its Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize. The prize encourages entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions to collecting, storing and transporting discarded lithium-ion batteries for eventual recycling. It will award cash prizes totaling $5.5 million to contestants in three phases designed to accelerate the development of solutions from concept to prototype.