Importance of Lithium Battery Recycling Confirmed by DOE Grant

April 03, 2023 by Shannon Flynn

Many devices with rechargeable batteries—smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric toothbrushes—have lithium-ion batteries inside. With electric vehicles' increasing popularity, disposing of these batteries is getting much attention.

Electric vehicles (EVs) usually rely on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, although researchers are aggressively working on alternatives. Efforts are underway to repurpose EV batteries in creative ways. One Toyota initiative involved building an energy-storage system with reclaimed batteries and connecting it to the consumer grid. 


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Battery recycling is increasingly getting attention, especially as people become more conscious of sustainability and realize the actions taken now will affect future generations and current times. Here are the numerous factors suggesting people recognize the importance of lithium-ion battery recycling,


Multimillion Battery-Recycling Loan

Many companies are already operating in the battery-recycling space, and that’s excellent news. However, it’s even better when federal agencies support that work. Such an instance occurred recently. 

The Loan Programs Office within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a conditional commitment to Li-Cycle U.S. Holdings Inc.—more commonly known as Li-Cycle. That action relates to a $375 million loan that will help finance the construction costs of a groundbreaking battery-recycling facility. 

The site will be the first for lithium-ion batteries and affect about 203,000 EV power sources annually. Additionally, the electric vehicles supported by this facility will collectively reduce approximately 716,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually and cut the gasoline used yearly by more than 80 million gallons. 


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Li-Cycle leaders have also promised to hire workers from communities identified by the DOE as disadvantaged. Relatedly, this construction project will create approximately 1,000 new jobs at its peak and an expected 270 permanent positions associated with the plant’s operations. 


This is the fifth project associated with the Loan Programs Office’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program (ATVM). The ATVM is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s work to onshore and reshore EV manufacturing and sourcing of critical minerals. However, this effort is significant because it represents the first instance of an ATVM beneficiary being a Li-ion battery recycler. That strongly suggests lithium battery recycling’s bright future. 


It appears Li-Cycle is going through an intensive growth period because the DOE commitment is not the company’s only recent good news. It recently announced plans to open its largest facility, which will be in Germany. That plant will handle up to 30,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries each year. The company also has additional plans outside of North America, such as a Norwegian facility. 


Validating Battery Recycling 

An important thing to remember about work in the battery-recycling space is that collective, long-term work will make a lasting difference. What Li-Cycle is doing could set the stage for further progress in the industry, but it’s necessary to look at other things that could make Li-ion batteries more sustainable. 

People are trying to make batteries charge faster and last longer while exploring potential new materials that are easier to source. Many of those attempts directly relate to what professionals interested in battery recycling are doing. Plus, as people learn which battery-recycling technologies and techniques work best, they’ll help make the whole industry greener. 


Using Ultrasonic Waves to Separate Materials From Battery Electrodes

Work led by a University of Leicester professor involves using ultrasonic waves to efficiently and effectively separate a battery electrode’s materials and fully recover them. Currently, methods to do this require putting lithium-ion batteries into a high-temperature reactor or a shredder. However, both options are energy intensive and need people to use complex physical and chemical processes. 

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The researchers borrowed an ultrasonic delamination technique already widely used in the food industry. Experiments showed it blasted graphite and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides from battery electrodes, leaving virgin aluminum or copper available for reuse. 


Improving Battery Recycling

Researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute explored how to improve Li-ion battery recycling. Ultimately, they put a National Science Foundation grant toward a facility called Ascend Element that will use some of the techniques ironed out in the institute’s lab. 

They’ve developed a solution that improves recycled batteries’ characteristics over new ones. They last longer and charge faster with no performance degradation. 

More work must occur so the people involved can ensure both these methods will function as expectedly when scaled up for real-world applications. Even so, these trials undoubtedly hope to illuminate new possibilities favorable for the Earth’s future. 


Battery Recycling Is Increasingly Vital

The question of what happens to EV batteries at the end of their useful lives is a significant sticking point as many areas of the world transition to cleaner transportation methods. However, thanks to commercialized and experimental battery-recycling options, there’s much to anticipate on the horizon. The authorities associated with the DOE loan recognized that, and more people within and outside the battery industry will, too, due to this ongoing work.