Battery recycling center seeks solutions to lithium battery waste

The rise of electric vehicles is accompanied by a demand for high-performance batteries. But what happens when those batteries wane?

CHARLOTTE, NC — North Carolina will soon be home to another electric vehicle battery factory: VinFast, a Vietnamese automaker looking to build and sell its electric vehicles in the United States.

With the growing interest of the Americans and the impetus of the Biden Administration to get Americans to adopt zero-emission vehicles comes the concern about recycling lithium-ion batteries.

These high-performance rechargeable batteries are found in just about everything we use daily: computers, laptops, smartphones and yes, electric vehicles.

Precious metals like aluminum alloy, nickel and cobalt are mined to create lithium-ion batteries. the US Department of Energy has poured millions of dollars into researching and developing ways to recycle these types of batteries.

It’s there that ReCell It is a national battery recycling center with a mission: to reduce the financial burden of recycling lithium-ion batteries and to create technologies to optimize the recycling of these batteries. Below are photos of researchers in ReCell’s Argonne Laboratory.

ReCell has identified two ways to recycle lithium-ion batteries.

  1. The first is to shred the battery, then put the materials in the acid, dissolve them and filter out the rest of the components.
  2. The second method is to use heat to burn the organic matter and then collect the valuable materials. ReCell said both processes allow them to obtain components for new batteries.

“At the end of the day, we want them to go into new batteries,” Jeff Spangenberger, said the director of ReCell’s Argonne laboratory. “So it takes longer for several stages along the way.”

Spangenberger said the effort to create good lithium-ion battery recycling methods is imperative for the United States.

“Recycling provides us with a material that we once bought in another country, we recycle it and now we keep it here,” Spangenberger said. “And so we basically mine our own waste. It’s a great source of these materials.”

Spangenberger acknowledged that both methods require energy and both methods generate waste.

“Air emissions are greater using furnaces,” Spangenberger said. “If you use the hydroelectric process, you do to have more liquid waste, things like that. So there are advantages and disadvantages for each type of recycling that exists today.”

The United States is slow to get started on the battery recycling front, but Spangenberger said it’s picking up. Currently, there are four such recycling facilities across the country. The main reason for this is that the batteries of electric vehicles have not yet reached the end of their lifespan, and therefore the push towards recycling has not been felt.

“But it should grow tremendously,” Spangenberger said. “And so we need to accelerate this industry.”