UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

UC San Diego Part of DOE's First Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling R&D Center

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 15, 2019 -- 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 has not kept pace.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched its first lithium-ion battery recycling research and development initiative, called the ReCell Center, which will help the United States grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials.

The center is a collaboration between Argonne National Laboratory; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Oak Ridge National Laboratory and several universities including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of California San Diego and Michigan Technological University.

Yang Shi and Zheng Chen of UC San Diego
Professor Zheng Chen (right) of UC San Diego and Yang Shi (left) developed a method to recycle and regenerate cathodes of spent lithium ion batteries.

Zheng Chen, a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego and faculty member of the university’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center, is working on a recycling process to restore used cathodes from spent lithium-ion batteries so they can be used to build new batteries. He has developed a method to recover and restore two types of lithium-ion battery cathode materials: lithium cobalt oxide, which is widely used in consumer electronics such as smartphones and laptops, and NMC, which is used in most electric vehicles. Chen’s team is refining and expanding their technology to recycle other types of lithium-ion battery cathode materials.

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 (batteries to DOE’s goal of $80 per kilowatt hour.

Collaborators from across the battery supply chain, including battery manufacturers, automotive original equipment manufacturers, recycling centers, battery lifecycle management services and material suppliers, are working with the center. The ReCell Center is supported by DOE with $15 million over three years and its work will include development of test beds and a process scale up facility at Argonne.

cathode particles recycled from spent lithium ion batteries
Cathode particles restored to work as good as new using Chen's recycling process.

The center 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.

“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 R Simmons, Assistant Secretary of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “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.”

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 electric vehicle batteries. Researchers will then scale up the most promising technologies at the ReCell Center facilities located at Argonne, 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.

The center’s goal is to create profitable methods to dramatically improve recycling rates and improve national security by reducing a foreign reliance on supplies of critical battery materials such as lithium and cobalt. This will further the President’s Executive Order 13817, which identifies the need for “developing critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies” as part of a broader strategy to “ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.”

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