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Argonne researchers develop ReCell model to gauge impact of recycling batteries from EVs

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have developed a novel model that allows industry, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and others to gauge the impact of recycling batteries in electric vehicles.

From cathodes to anodes and electrolytes, Argonne’s understanding of batteries, combined with ReCell, a closed-loop battery recycling model, offers preliminary estimates of total costs as well as environmental impacts such as carbon dioxide emissions. The model breaks down each process from when a battery leaves the factory to when it is recycled.

Argonne’s ReCell model can provide information to manufacturers up front, so those manufacturers can determine life cycle costs with precision and provide batteries to consumers with minimal environmental and economic impacts. Argonne’s researchers have designed ReCell to be versatile and adapt to the challenges that recycling of lithium ion batteries present, such as differing battery chemistries and formats.

ReCell helps determine where we need to focus our efforts. This results in more efficient research and expedites the process of reaching our life cycle, or circular, goal.

—Jeff Spangenberger, Argonne ReCell project leader

The model includes three basic recycling technologies:

  • Extracting metals with heat (pyrometallurgical)
  • Extracting metals with liquids (hydrometallurgical)
  • Direct recycling

Preliminary findings estimate that a cell with a recycled cathode could cost 5%, 20% and 30% less than a new cell using pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy and direct recycling routes, respectively, according to estimates from Argonne’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model recycling parameters. That same cell could consume 10%, 20% and 30% less energy, respectively.

Additionally, the model considers transportation-related cost and environmental factors, which can help steer the development of a recycling infrastructure. For example, is it more effective to have one large central recycling center or several smaller centers located throughout the country? Preliminary results from the ReCell model show how a simple change in shipping classification for end-of-life batteries could potentially change a recycled cathode’s cost from 30% less than a new cathode to one that only breaks even.

Information provided by ReCell will become increasingly important as thousands of batteries from vehicles sold over the last decade reach their end of life, according to Spangenberger, who noted that plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales in the US more than doubled in the last four years. Currently, PEVs represent only 1% of new vehicle sales. However annual sales of PEVs by 2025 are estimated to exceed 1.2 million vehicles, reaching more than 7% of annual vehicle sales.

The model, developed by Spangenberger and Qiang Dai, an Argonne postdoctoral fellow, also incorporates the work of Linda Gaines, a transportation systems analyst and battery recycling expert. This work, Gaines noted, could also help extend limited supplies of lithium, cobalt and other valuable elements. Ultimately, it could also reduce U.S. dependence on foreign resources and enhance national security.

ReCell leverages Argonne’s patented GREET life-cycle model and Battery Performance and Cost, or BatPaC, a lithium-ion battery performance and cost model for electric-drive vehicles.

ReCell initially received support from Argonne’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Vehicle Technologies Office is funding the current work.

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