Recycled critical materials put battery supply chains in US hands

The ReCell Center will leverage R&D facilities including the Battery Post-Test Laboratory at Argonne National Laboratory. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)
A goal of the ReCell Center is to drive toward closed-loop recycling, where materials from spent batteries are directly recycled, minimizing energy use and waste by eliminating mining and processing steps. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

The use of lithium-ion batteries has surged 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 has not kept pace.

The launch of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) first 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.

“ReCell brings our national laboratories, the private sector and universities together to develop advanced technologies that safely and cost effectively recycle lithium-ion batteries,” said Daniel R Simmons, Assistant Secretary of 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.”

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

The Manufacturing Engineering Research Facility at Argonne will be used to prepare samples of battery materials for testing and characterization. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

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

To spur development of new recycling techniques and new battery designs, DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) within EERE dedicated the ReCell Center today at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. The ReCell Center, DOE’s first advanced battery recycling research and development (R&D) initiative, is a collaboration between Argonne; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and several universities including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California at San Diego and Michigan Technological University. Collaborators from across the battery supply chain, including battery manufacturers, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), recycling centers, battery lifecycle management services and material suppliers, are working with the center. The ReCell Center is supported by DOE with $15 million over three years and its work will include development of test beds and a process scaleup facility at Argonne.

The center collaborators will focus on four key research areas 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 that 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 utilized to help direct an efficient path of R&D and to validate the work performed within the center.
Samples of battery material are prepared for analysis with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) at the Manufacturing Engineering Research Facility at Argonne. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

“This is an exciting time as applications for energy storage continue to expand,” said 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.”

University and national laboratory collaborators will use state-of-the-art R&D tools at their home institutions to develop new methods for separating and reclaiming valuable materials from spent EV batteries. Researchers will then scale up the most promising technologies at the ReCell Center facilities located at Argonne, where industrial collaborators can explore the technologies and develop them further. The center will be a collaboration space for researchers from industry, academia and other government laboratories to use R&D tools not found at their own laboratories and to grow pre-commercial technologies.

“The ReCell Center will help expedite the pursuit to profitable lithium-ion battery recycling. It combines the nation’s leading experts and research tools from academia, industry and government laboratories to solve science challenges that have prevented the U.S. from reaping the economic, environmental and security benefits that come with having a large commercial U.S.-based lithium-ion recycling market,” said Jeff Spangenberger, director of the ReCell Center.

The center’s goal is to create profitable methods to dramatically improve recycling rates and improve national security by reducing a foreign reliance on supplies of critical battery materials such as lithium and cobalt. This will further the President’s Executive Order 13817, which identifies the need for ​“developing critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies” as part of a broader strategy to ​“ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.”

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to strengthen U.S. economic growth, energy security, and environmental quality.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.