Competitors Leverage Laboratory Capabilities To Improve the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Supply Chain
Article courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
By Rebecca Martineau
Innovation happens when the right resources, people, and passions come together to address a challenge. The Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize unites these elements to build a supply chain that addresses the collection, separating and sorting, safe storage and transportation, and reverse logistics of recycling lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.
The multi-phase prize, launched in January 2019 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), contributes to DOE’s goal to capture 90% of all spent Li-ion batteries for eventual recycling of critical materials and reintroduction into the supply chain.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the prize administrator for the $5.5 million competition and many other American-Made Challenges. The prize model acts as a catalyst to foster research and development, empower American ingenuity, and assert national leadership in the energy marketplace. These prizes allow entrepreneurs to access state-of-the-art research facilities as technical partners in collaboration within the American-Made Network.
Vouchers Energize Developmental Research at National Laboratories
With the launch of Phase III in January 2021, participants received $100,000 in non-cash vouchers to use at approved organizations within the American-Made Network, which include all 17 national laboratories. The prize vouchers allow teams to access tools, equipment, and expertise to advance their concepts. Many of these teams chose to work directly with national laboratories, including NREL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL).
“The American-Made Challenges prize model provides an opportunity for laboratories to collaborate with industry on research at the developmental stages,” said SNL Researcher Joshua Lamb. “Typically, it would be difficult for a small business to commit resources to leverage our testing capabilities and fully explore promising new technologies.”
Lamb is helping identify new techniques to render batteries inert before transport, avoid costly procedures for transporting hazardous materials, and allow spent Li-ion batteries to be safely shipped as common goods. Multiple teams are working with Argonne National Laboratory to apply its EverBatt model to evaluate the cost and environmental impacts of their concept solutions. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one team is leveraging laboratory capabilities to improve Li-ion battery state-of-charge and state-of-health monitoring using transducers and excitation methods. Each of these projects supports teams in the development of an end-to-end solution by addressing challenges facing the battery recycling supply chain.
NREL Capabilities Meet Diverse Challenges in Battery Recycling
NREL is working with four participating teams on a diverse set of deliverables, including degradation modeling, techno-economic analysis, and machine learning — highlighting the breadth of expertise across the laboratory. One team chose to focus entirely on second-life opportunities, developing a model to evaluate the feasibility of repurposing Li-ion batteries based on chemistry characteristics, projected battery lifetime, and application history. Each project addresses a different supply chain sector, making it easier and more efficient to collect, measure, transport, and recover Li-ion batteries.
“The close collaboration on the voucher work with Battery Recycling Prize teams has led to more specialized analysis that aligns directly with their business needs,” said NREL Researcher Dustin Weigl. “The rate of change in these small companies is rapid, and responding to those changes is critical for ensuring this work is useful for navigating the recycling landscape.”
Judges Review Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize Final Submissions
Teams submitted their Phase III proposals and pilot validation results on April 8, 2022. A panel of judges from NREL, DOE, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are currently reviewing the final submissions, which must demonstrate the ability to recover Li-ion batteries under real-world scenarios for various applications — consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and stationary storage — and verify the feasibility of achieving the end-to-end solution’s projected impact when fully scaled.
Judges will select up to four final winners of Phase III to receive a cash prize of up to $2,000,000 distributed equally among the winning teams.
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.
The prize is an essential part of the mission to accelerate the research, development, demonstration, and deployment of technologies and solutions to equitably transition America to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.
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