Batteries are critical to powering a clean energy economy. This is especially true in the transportation sector, where electric vehicles (EVs) are on track to make up half of all new vehicle sales by 2030. In order to meet this rapidly increasing demand, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is distributing funding to advance domestic recycling and reuse of electric vehicle batteries. Managed by DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, these grants are part of a $7 billion investment to strengthen the domestic battery supply chain. Each of the grants will be matched with funding from the receiving company, potentially doubling their impact.
Electric vehicle batteries contain many valuable minerals and materials. The U.S currently does not produce enough of these minerals and materials to manufacture EV batteries without relying on imports. The demand for critical battery components, such as lithium and graphite, are projected to increase by as much as 4,000% in the coming decades. If this problem is not addressed, it could limit the development and adoption of clean energy battery technologies.
Battery recycling can address these issues by providing a domestic supply of battery materials. It also has the added benefit of reducing supply chain disruptions, reducing the environmental impact of EV battery production and encouraging the production of batteries made in the U.S.
“Argonne is excited to have this great opportunity to help advance battery recycling technology and support the effort to expand commercial-scale battery materials production and manufacturing in the U.S.” — Jeffrey Spangenberger, ReCell Center director and group leader in materials recycling at Argonne
DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory has emerged as a global leader in battery recycling. Scientists at Argonne have pioneered new ways to extract materials from old batteries so they can be recycled and used again. They also have developed state of the art models to evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of each stage of a battery’s life, from mining of the raw materials through recycling. Argonne has a successful track record of collaborating with industry and other national labs. This experience has led to the development of a number of partnerships between Argonne and the materials production or recycling industries. Partnerships include:
Faster, cleaner lithium extraction
Lilac Solutions has developed a new method to extract lithium from brines that can double the lithium recovery compared to conventional methods and dramatically reduce production time — all with a minimal impact on the environment. Argonne is helping Lilac better understand the potential of their new technology.
Building a plant to extract lithium from claystone
American Battery Technology Company (ABTC) is building a field demonstration facility that produces lithium hydroxide from claystone deposits. Their new technology can potentially reduce the costs and environmental impacts of lithium production. Argonne is helping ABTC conduct analyses of their technology, estimating production costs and environmental impacts and helping them identify opportunities for improvement.
Reducing costs and environmental impacts of lithium-ion battery recycling
ABTC is also working with Argonne on a separate project that will optimize and test new advanced separation and processing technologies at an ABTC battery recycling facility. The new technologies have the potential to work better and cost less, while using less water and having less of an environmental impact.
Linking battery recycling with mine waste reclamation
Michigan Technological University will be working with Argonne on a project that aims to address issues of the cost and quality of material produced in battery recycling by coupling the recycling with existing mine waste reclamation efforts. If successful, the project could reduce energy use by 25%. It could also help to establish a profitable U.S. battery recycling business and provide needed battery materials from unconventional sources.
Direct recycling of used lithium-ion batteries
Argonne scientists will also be working with Princeton NuEnergy Inc. to develop new direct recycling methods for end-of-life lithium-ion batteries. Today, most battery recycling involves breaking down existing batteries to extract the raw material needed for production. Direct recycling uses the battery components without breaking down the chemical structure. This approach significantly lowers costs and increases material performance. It also reduces chemical waste and limits the risk associated with the materials supply chain.
Scaling up a novel purification strategy for direct recycling of batteries
The University of California San Diego (UCSD) received funding to demonstrate a battery recycling technology that integrates a purification process into regeneration to improve the quality of cathode materials while reducing costs by up to 80%. Argonne scientists will help UCSD develop a working pilot, which could help solve the issue of limited domestic cathode supply.
These projects are just some of the ways Argonne is supporting industry to get advanced battery recycling technology to market.
“Argonne is excited to have this great opportunity to help advance battery recycling technology and support the effort to expand commercial-scale battery materials production and manufacturing in the U.S.,” said Jeffrey Spangenberger. Spangenberger leads the materials recycling group at Argonne. He also leads the ReCell Center, a national collaboration — headquartered at Argonne — of industry, academia and national laboratories working together to advance battery recycling technologies.
The first electric vehicles to hit the U.S. market are nearing the end of their life. Argonne is developing the technology needed to recycle their EV batteries and reclaim the precious metals they contain, so they can be used power the electric vehicles of the future. By 2040, nearly 8 million tons of EV batteries may be available for recycling. Tapping them for our metal needs can reduce emissions by as much as 16 million tons a year while also providing a much-needed domestic source for battery materials.
Funding for these projects comes from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Vehicle Technologies Office. Additional funding and support will be provided by the companies who are grant recipients.
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://energy.gov/science.