The Challenge: An increase of lithium-ion batteries is headed for US recyclers
The use of lithium-ion batteries has increased in recent years, starting with electronics and expanding into many applications, including the growing electric and hybrid vehicle industry. But, the technologies to optimize recycling of these batteries have not kept pace.
What We Deliver: The first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center
The launch of ReCell, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Office’s (VTO) first advanced battery recycling R&D center, will help enable the United States to compete in a global recycling industry and also reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials.
The Vehicle Technologies Office sees an opportunity to reduce the financial risks of recycling lithium-ion and future batteries and thus help accelerate the growth of a profitable recycling market for spent electric vehicle (EV), consumer electronics, and stationary storage batteries. This can be done by developing novel recycling technologies to make lithium-ion battery recycling cost-effective by using less energy-intensive processing methods and capturing more valuable forms of materials for reuse in batteries.
Accelerating and advancing industry adoption of recycling will help meet VTO’s goals of pushing down the cost of EV battery packs for consumers and increasing the use of domestic sources of recycled battery materials. These recycled materials can be use in new batteries, helping to drive down the overall production cost of electric vehicle batteries to the national goal of $60/kWh or under.
The Impact: Reduce the cost of EV batteries
The lithium-ion battery recycling methods being used today are hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical processes. These processes, though effective, only enable the recovery of specific metals, and in material forms that are of low value to battery manufacturers. To make lithium-ion recycling profitable, without charging disposal fees to consumers, and to encourage industry growth, current recycling methods need to be improved and new technologies must be developed.
In addition to improvements to hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical recycling processes, the ReCell Center is working to develop direct recycling technologies. Direct recycling is the recovery, regeneration, and reuse of battery components directly without breaking down the chemical structure. By maintaining the process value in the original battery components, a lower-cost re-constituted material can be supplied to battery manufacturers. This will in turn help reduce the cost of EV batteries and drive up the value in recycling EV batteries.
ReCell is also working to extract more value out of batteries at the end of their initial use phase. The decision to send a battery to a second use phase or recycling is not an either or decision. The battery will eventually get recycled, it is just a matter of when that will happen. ReCell is evaluating ways to enhance the sustainability and adoption of used batteries through safe transportation, second life challenges and opportunities, battery design for easier recycling.
The ReCell Center is a collaboration of researchers from academia and national laboratories who test new techniques, with input from industry stakeholders, to drive the development of lithium-ion battery recycling by increasing the profit that can be generated while minimizing the environmental impacts of these processes. In turn, this will help to enable the growth of a battery recycling industry in the U.S. There are four focus areas that the Center emphasizes. These are: Direct Recycling of Materials, Advanced Resource Recovery, Modeling and Analysis, and Design for Sustainability. The ReCell Center also utilizes Crosscutting Activities that benefit the Center’s efforts more broadly.
The Center’s research and development projects are evaluated using Argonne’s EverBatt model. This model evaluates the techno-economic and environmental impacts of each stage of a battery’s life, including recycling. The output from this model allows the Center to compare developing processes to existing ones and to production of virgin materials. The most promising new recycling processes will be demonstrated at pilot scale at the ReCell Center, based at Argonne National Laboratory. Validated processes and designs will be licensed to industry for commercialization.
Funding for this program is through the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Vehicle Technologies Office.