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Feature Story | Energy Systems Division

Closing the Loop on Battery Recycling

Argonne battery technology clearing path to clean transportation

ReCell, a model developed at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory allows stakeholders to determine the impact of recycling batteries in electric vehicles which could further energize this market.

Argonne has a long track record of expertise in battery R&D, and now we have added the ability to examine every step along the way, from manufacturing to recycling,” said Argonne’s Jeff Spangenberger, the project leader.

From cathodes to anodes and electrolytes, Argonne’s understanding of batteries combined with ReCell, a closed-loop battery recycling model, provides industry, DOE and others with a vivid picture of total costs as well as environmental impacts such as CO2 emissions. The model breaks down each process from when a battery leaves the factory to when it is recycled.

By providing information to manufacturers upfront, they can determine with precision lifecycle costs and provide batteries to consumers with minimal environmental and economic impacts. ReCell has been designed to be versatile and adapt to the challenge that recycling lithium ion batteries presents such as differing battery chemistries and formats.

ReCell helps determine where we need to focus our efforts. This results in more efficient research and expedites the process of reaching our lifecycle, or circular, goal,” said Spangenberger who is also a recent recipient of a DOE Technology Commercialization Fund award.

The model includes three basic recycling technologies; pyrometallurgical, hydrometallurgical and direct.  Preliminary model outputs, based on Argonne’s GREET model recycling parameters, indicate the potential for a cell with recycled cathode to cost 5%, 20% and 30% less than a new cell using pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy, and direct recycling routes, respectively.  The corresponding savings in energy consumption are 10%, 20% and 30%, respectively.      

Additionally, the model includes transportation related cost and environmental impacts which can help steer the development of a recycling infrastructure by determining whether it is more effective to have one large central recycling center or several smaller centers located throughout the country. The model demonstrates how a simple change in shipping classification for end-of-life batteries can affect their cost – for example, by increasing a recycled battery’s cathode cost from 70% of that for a virgin cathode to 100%, negating much of the benefit of recycling. 

Information provided by ReCell will become increasingly important as thousands of batteries from vehicles sold over the last decade reach their end of life, according to Spangenberger, who added that plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in the U.S. more than doubled in the last four years. However, PEVs only make up 1% of new vehicle sales, but by 2025 annual sales of PEVs will exceed 1.2 million vehicles, reaching more than 7 percent of annual vehicle sales.

The model, developed by Spangenberger and Qiang Dai, an Argonne postdoctoral fellow, also incorporates the work of Linda Gaines, a transportation systems analyst and battery recycling expert. This work, Gaines noted, could also help extend limited supplies of lithium, cobalt and other valuable elements. Ultimately, it could also reduce U.S. dependence on foreign resources increasing our country’s security.

ReCell initially received internal support from Argonne National Laboratory’s directed research and development initiative fund (LDRD) to seed its early stages of development.  The Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office is funding its current work.

ReCell leverages Argonne’s patented lifecycle model Greenhouse gas, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation, or GREET, and Battery Performance and Cost, or BatPaC, a lithium-ion battery performance and cost model for electric-drive vehicles.

GREET, developed by Michael Wang and his team, is a free program that allows users to analyze technologies over an entire life cycle – from well to wheels – and from raw material mining to vehicle disposal.

BatPaC, developed by Paul Nelson, is also a free program that captures the interplay between design and cost of lithium-ion batteries for transportation applications.

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.