Wringing profit from water-based EV-battery recycling

Profit is not a dirty word in EV-battery recycling. In fact, Jessica Durham, a materials scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says it’s key, just as it is in traditional vehicle and 12-volt lead-acid battery recycling.

“To be able to recycle EV batteries, there’s going to have to be some type of profit,” said Durham. “Or else people are not going to want to do it. And the more profit we have, the more people will be willing to adopt this technology.”

Argonne’s researchers say they’ve found an old mining process that cuts down the cost of processing used batteries and preserves their high-priced metallic compounds, unlike traditional methods that break them down into their lower-cost constituent parts. This clever new methodology has caught the interest of battery makers and the auto companies that use these recycled materials.

The recycling of lithium ion batteries has yet to scale up. Only about 5 percent are recycled. Today most find secondary lives repurposed for things such as solar home-energy storage.

In this newly surging era of electric vehicles, profit from recovered battery-scrap materials is super critical to the sustainable success of the auto marketplace. These materials are either in short supply or will shortly be in tight supply. And in many cases, mining these materials damages the environment and exposes workers to hazardous substances.

Currently, there are two main, energy-intensive — and costly — EV-battery recycling processes: pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. The former burns the shredded battery to separate materials, and the latter soaks it in strong acid baths to dissolve out costly metals. But resynthesizing these metal compounds, once broken all the way down into their raw constituent materials, adds greatly to their costs.

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