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Competition Spurs Transformative Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Solutions

Battery Recycling Prize and New R&D Center Aim to Develop Cost-effective Recycling Infrastructure and Processes to Recover Key Materials

February 28, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently launched the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize, with NREL as prize administrator. The $5.5-million phased prize competition is designed to incentivize American innovators and businesses to develop and demonstrate processes that, when scaled, have the potential to profitably capture 90% of all discarded or spent lithium-ion batteries in the United States. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are recycled at a rate of less than 5%.

Photo of researchers in laboratory setting working with technical components.

Researchers at NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility work on a recycling reactor to rejuvenate battery electrodes for reuse.

"The demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is expected to grow substantially as manufacturing and materials costs drop and performance improves," said NREL Chief Energy Storage Engineer Ahmad Pesaran, who serves as the technical program manager for the prize. "As a result, the need for key materials used in these batteries will increase. This competition will spur the development of innovative battery recycling solutions that could prove pivotal in recovering these key materials to meet future demand."

The competition focuses on identifying solutions for collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting end-of-life, spent, or discarded lithium-ion batteries—from electric vehicle, consumer electronics, industrial, and stationary applications—for eventual recycling and recovery of key materials for re-introduction into the U.S. supply chain. It is composed of three progressive prize competitions structured to provide the resources, environment, and partnerships necessary to create new solutions and develop them from concepts to early-stage prototypes and processes to pilot-scale demonstrations. Concept papers for Phase I are due by August 1, 2019, and winners will be selected in September.

The Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize is funded by the Vehicle Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office within DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

In related news, DOE recently established the Lithium Battery R&D Recycling Center, also known as the ReCell Center. Work at the ReCell Center focuses on cost-effectively reclaiming and recycling critical materials (e.g., cobalt and lithium) from spent lithium-based batteries.

Argonne National Laboratory will lead the new center in partnership with NREL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and three universities. A suite of industry partners will provide expertise from all points along the battery supply chain, including battery manufacturers, vehicle manufacturers, recycling centers, battery lifecycle management services, and material suppliers.

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.

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