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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Making more batteries with fewer materials

An Argonne partnership with a Minnesota mining company is taking waste from one battery production process and using it in another

Researchers investigate how to use mining waste in battery production.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is developing a new process that could dramatically increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) batteries produced from mined nickel ore. The effort is part of a new partnership with Talon Metals, a U.S. mining company that plans to produce high-grade nickel ore domestically.

Argonne’s process uses mining waste as an input in another production process for a type of battery used in a growing number of EVs. The aim is to reduce mining waste and U.S. reliance on other countries for battery materials. According to the International Energy Agency, supply chains for battery materials need to expand 10 times to meet government EV ambitions.

Our partnership with Talon Metals seeks to make more efficient use of critical materials in domestic battery supply chains so that the U.S. can rely less on other countries to achieve its clean energy goals.” — Jeff Spangenberger, Argonne’s materials recycling research and development group leader 

Recovering mining by-products

Talon Metals plans to mine and process high-grade nickel ores in the American Midwest. The company seeks to develop a domestic supply of nickel for use in North American lithium-ion battery manufacturing.

Talon’s nickel production has valuable by-product minerals including iron compounds. The company wants to maximize recovery of these by-products instead of sending them to waste piles — as sometimes happens in mineral processing. The company recognized the potential to extract and use them in production of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathodes, which are increasingly used in lithium-ion batteries. Cathodes are positive electrodes.

We turned to Argonne to help us find a way to unlock more value from nickel deposits,” said Talon CEO Henri van Rooyen. Increasing the overall yield of critical minerals for battery manufacturing translates into less disturbance of the earth for mining.”

Growing domestic battery supply chains

Argonne and Talon have entered into a Collaborative Research and Development Agreement. They are developing a process that uses iron sulfides from Talon to synthesize LFP cathodes.

Researchers at Argonne’s Materials Engineering Research Facility (MERF) will develop, optimize and implement an LFP synthesis process and then test the cathodes’ performance in coin battery cells. Talon’s processing experts will collaborate with MERF scientists to calibrate the iron compounds’ purity and composition to enhance cathode production. The team’s objective is to make commercial-quality cathodes.

An effective new process can potentially reduce LFP manufacturing costs by eliminating traditional production steps. There is also a distinct possibility that the team’s cathodes could outperform cathodes manufactured through traditional processes.

Because the iron compound we’re accessing is a by-product of nickel production, it has impurities such as nickel and manganese,” said Argonne Materials Scientist Donghyeon Kang. These impurities could actually enhance the cathode’s performance. Battery manufacturers often intentionally introduce small amounts of metal impurities into cathode materials — a process known as doping — to enhance their performance.”

If successful, the research could improve domestic battery supply chains in a number of ways. There is currently limited domestic LFP cathode production. Argonne could potentially change that by enabling U.S. battery manufacturers and recyclers with a new LFP synthesis technology. An effective process could also make U.S. nickel mining and processing more profitable, encouraging more companies to embark on domestic nickel production. Additionally, the process can help domestic mining companies reduce waste.

Nickel concentrates produced from high-grade nickel ore contain four times more iron than nickel,” said Talon’s van Rooyen. By using this iron to produce LFP batteries, Talon can supply ingredients for multiple battery technologies, generate a new income stream and reduce waste. And we can substantially increase the number of batteries manufactured from the same ton of rock compared with conventional approaches.”

Our partnership with Talon Metals seeks to make more efficient use of critical materials in domestic battery supply chains so that the U.S. can rely less on other countries to achieve its clean energy goals,” said Jeff Spangenberger, Argonne’s materials recycling group leader. 

DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office provided funding for Argonne’s portion of this project. 

Companies interested in partnering with Argonne to enhance battery recycling and supply chains can contact Jeff Spangenberger, materials recycling research and development group leader at Argonne.   

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology by conducting leading-edge basic and applied research in virtually every scientific discipline. 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.