Breakthrough Research Makes Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries More Economical

Direct recycling is the least energy-consuming way to recycle lithium-ion batteries. Credit: ReCell Center

How can I make battery recycling cost effective? ReCell Center scientists have taken a new step towards that goal.

Lithium-ion batteries are the current and future engine of our technology. They power portable electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles (EVs), which are becoming more popular. However, the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries, especially in automobiles, outweighs the technology for recycling them. Scientists at the ReCell Center, now the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, the first advanced battery recycling research and development center in the United States, remove one of the biggest obstacles to manufacturing. I made a very important discovery. Recycling lithium-ion batteries is economically feasible.

The recycling process currently in use allows the recovery of low-value metals for battery manufacturers. A big problem is imminent. Within 10 years, researchers predict that 2 million tonnes of lithium-ion batteries, which have reached the end of their life from EVs, will be scrapped each year. The number of used EV batteries is currently low, but will increase significantly as older models reach the end of their useful life. The current recycling infrastructure is not ready for inflow.

“If the battery industry is buying recycled cathode materials for reuse in new batteries, they are not going to sacrifice purity.” — Jessica Durham, Argonne Materials Scientist, Co-author of Research

Researchers at the Michigan Technological University (MTU), part of the ReCell team, have developed an innovative process to separate the valuable materials that make up the cathode, the positively charged electrode of the battery.

Scientists at Argonne’s Materials Engineering Research Facility are expanding MTU’s innovative separation process, paving the way for large-scale recycling of EV batteries. Since the positive electrode material for EV batteries varies depending on the automobile manufacturer and year of manufacture, recyclers use lithium metal oxides (lithium cobalt oxide, lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide, lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide, lithium iron phosphate, etc.). You need to use a mixture. — And separate each to reuse those materials. That once impossible task suddenly seems feasible.

Direct recycling and reuse of battery cathode material

Directly recycling and reusing the cathode material of the battery closes the loop. Credit: ReCell Center

In a new treatise published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal Energy technology, MTU and ReCell researchers detail their findings. A method of separating individual cathode materials by adding a new twist to an old process called foam flotation.

Foam flotation, which has been used in the mining industry for many years to separate and refine ore, separates the material in the flotation tank based on whether it repels water or absorbs and sinks. In general, cathode materials sink, making it difficult to separate them from each other. This is true for Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC111) and Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO). These are two common EV battery cathode materials used in the experiments by the ReCell team. Researchers have discovered that separation can be achieved by suspending one of the cathode materials, NMC111, by introducing a chemical that repels water in the target material.

Once the cathode material was separated, researchers determined through testing that the process had little effect on the electrochemical performance of the material. Both had high purity levels (95% and above).

“This is very important,” says Jessica Durham, a materials scientist and co-author of the study at Argonne. “If the battery industry buys recycled cathode material and reuses it in new batteries, there is no sacrifice in purity.”

This research is linked to ReCell Center’s mission to advance low-energy processing methods and recover valuable materials for direct recycling, which directly recovers, recycles, and reuses battery components without destroying chemical structures. increase. The center is a collaboration between DOE’s National Renewable Energy Institute, Argonne, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the Michigan Institute of Technology, the University of California, San Diego, and Worcester Polytechnic University.

The discovery of ReCell promises to have broad implications, including reducing the cost of recycling lithium-ion batteries. Accelerate the growth of the profitable recycling market for used lithium-ion batteries. Reduce the cost of EVs for both producers and consumers. Allow the United States to compete in the global battery recycling industry. Strengthen energy independence in the United States by increasing the use of domestic sources of recycled battery materials. And reduce the US reliance on foreign sources of materials.

But for now, the ReCell Center team is focused on step-by-step creating a complete recycling process for economically viable lithium-ion batteries. Only then will it be widely adopted.

“Whatever method is used to do this recycling, the recycler must be able to profit from it,” says Durham. “Ultimately, we’re putting together the steps, recognizing that the entire process needs to be profitable.”

See: “Direct Recycling of Mixed Cathode Materials by Frost Floth”, Tinu-Ololade Folayan, Albert L. Lipson, Jessica L. Durham, Haruka Pinegar, Donghao Liu, Lei Pan, July 29, 2021 Energy technology..
DOI: 10.1002 / ente.202100468

Other research co-authors of Argonne include leading materials scientist Albert Lipson and postdoctoral researcher Haruka Pinger.

This research and ReCell Center is funded by the Vehicle Technologies Office, DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Authority.

EERE’s mission is to accelerate the research, development, demonstration and deployment of technologies and solutions, equitably shift the United States to zero net greenhouse gas emissions across the economy by 2050, and a clean energy economy for all Americans. It is about ensuring that you can benefit and produce good things. Pay jobs for Americans, especially workers and communities affected by the energy transition, and those who have historically been under-served by the energy system and overloaded by pollution.

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