The cathode material is the most valuable component in a lithium-ion cell and is the target of most recycling efforts. Conventional recycling processes depend on recovery of cobalt—the key cost driver—as the key contributor to revenue. However, the use of cobalt in cathode formulations is decreasing rapidly, eroding the economics of these processes. But there is also considerable value in the highly engineered crystal structure of the cathode, whether it contains cobalt or not. Direct recycling retains this structure, rather than breaking it down into constituent elements, and hence has the potential to be economically viable for any cathode chemistry.

The ReCell collaboration will focus on four key areas that impede the adoption of direct cathode recycling:

  • Binder Removal:Determine the best method to remove the binder holding cathode particles together with minimal damage to the particles’ performance so that costly after-treatment processes are not required.
  • Cathode Separation: Separate mixtures of different cathode powders into their different constituents, using techniques based on their different properties, such as hydrophobicity and magnetic susceptibility.
  • Cathode Relithiation: Develop an energy-efficient recycling process to directly regenerate various degraded cathode active particles (LCO, LMO, NCM, NCA and their mixtures) to revive their high electrochemical performance.
  • Upcycling and Impurity Impact: Upgrade obsolete compositions with lower market value to current ones for use in new batteries. Understand how impurities generated during processing (e.g.,Cu, Al, and Fe)impact materials performance.

Learn more about the individual projects in these areas in our Quarterly Reports.

Roll-to-Roll Electrochemical Bath Relithiation

Roll-to-Roll Electrochemical Bath Relithiation

The scalable Roll-to-Roll format will be designed and developed for direct relithiating end-of-life cathode materials.
(Courtesy of NREL)