A new lithium-ion battery recycling research and development center, launched by the Department of Energy (DOE), has been opened at Argonne National Laboratory. Aiming to reclaim and recycle critical materials (e.g., cobalt and lithium) from lithium-based battery technology, the ReCell Center will focus on developing cost-effective recycling processes to recover as much economic value as possible from spent lithium-ion batteries.
The DOE says the ReCell Center will help the US grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials. The R&D initiative is a collaboration between Argonne, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and several universities.
The goal of the recycling center is to develop technologies to profitably capture 90% of all lithium-based batteries in the US and to recover 90% of the key materials from the collected batteries. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are collected and recycled at a rate of less than 5%, ReCell says.
Commercially released in 1991, lithium-ion batteries were initially used in individual portable devices. Lithium-ion batteries can now be found in laptops, mobile phones, electric vehicles, energy storage devices, and a variety of defense applications. “Riding on a wave of electric vehicle (EV) adoption, these first EVs will reach the end of their lifetime in the next few years,” writes ReCell. “This will create a supply of spent lithium-ion batteries that the nation is not prepared to handle in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner.”
While EVs made up just 2% of cars sold in the US in 2018, that could rise to 22% by 2025, according to EVAdoption – leading to an eventual flood of spent batteries. Meanwhile, demand for components in batteries such as cobalt, lithium and nickel will increase, driving up costs. “That could cause big problems. Or big opportunities. It all depends on how quickly the US develops novel recycling processes to turn would-be trash into high-value products from recycled material from EV batteries,” ReCell writes.
BBC Research estimates that in the US alone, the market for recycled lithium-ion batteries could reach $2.2 billion as early as 2023.