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 have not kept pace.
The launch of the U.S. Department of Energy’s first lithium-ion battery recycling center, called the ReCell Center, will help the United States grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce reliance on foreign sources of battery materials.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is collaborating with Argonne National Laboratory, which is leading the initiative, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and several universities including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California at San Diego and Michigan Technological University. The ReCell Center is supported by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) with $15 million over three years. Work will include development of test beds and a process scale up facility at Argonne.
“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 Simmons, Assistant Secretary of 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.”
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.
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 in order to meet DOE’s goal of $80 per kilowatt hour.
ORNL’s role in the ReCell Center will focus on the design of cells to optimize recyclability, including working on the separation of active powders from their collector foils and developing a new method to rejuvenate cathode powers using ionic liquids.
“We’re also working on a scalable process that can separate the active components in the cells from the inactive components without causing structural or chemical changes under non-acidic and low temperature conditions,” said Ilias Belharouak, ORNL group leader for Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing in the Battery Manufacturing Facility at the National Transportation Research Center.
Belharouak said the scalable process will solve the challenge of separating cathodes and graphite from aluminum and copper current collectors.
ORNL R&D is anticipated to set the stage for cost-effective and clean recovery of mixed lithium-ion cathodes with minimal composition and morphology changes and under non-invasive chemistry conditions.
Overall, 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.
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, 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.
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://energy.gov/science.