Toyota and Argonne National Laboratory Partner to Develop Lithium-Ion Battery Direct Recycling Process to Advance US EV Deployment

May 1, 2024
Argonne's approach extracts the components from spent batteries while retaining their original structure to reduce manufacturing cost and waste while also reducing the US' need for pristine raw materials

Toyota Motor North America has entered a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory to investigate developing a direct recycling process for lithium-ion batteries. 

Lithium-ion batteries are a crucial component in new EVs, and the US is particularly dependent on foreign sources for new battery materials. If successful, the partners' research could make domestic battery supply chains more robust and circular, enabling more rapid deployment of EVs in the US. 

"Direct recycling is cutting-edge in the battery industry," said Argonne Principal Materials Scientist Albert Lipson. "There are a few startup companies with small-scale pilot projects underway, but implementation at commercial scale is still in need of new innovations."

In most traditional battery recycling operations today, the chemical structure of end-of-life battery components is broken down into raw materials that are then manufactured back into a viable product. Although this has become the industry standard practice, the process is costly and produces a significant amount of waste. 

However, Argonne's approach - a technique called direct recycling - carefully extracts these components from spent batteries while retaining their original structure. This preserves the cathodes in batteries - which have a complex chemistry - and can significantly reduce manufacturing cost and waste while reducing the US' need for pristine raw materials. 

For the project, Toyota will provide Argonne with end-of-life and new Toyota plug-in hybrid EV batteries. Argonne will then apply its patent-pending ReCell direct recycling process to the battery cells to extract and regenerate the cathode materials. 

"Besides recycling end-of-life batteries, we're also interested in recycling new batteries," added Lipson. "Manufacturers produce some battery cells that fail quality testings. We can potentially demonstrate that manufacturers can take cathodes out of failed cells and put them back into their production process. This capability could translate into huge cost savings."

The team will test various aspects of the cathodes' performance in coin cells, including their capacity, lifetime, and impedance - a type of resistance to electric current. 

If the cells perform well, researchers will scale up the recycling process by building larger pouch cells from the extracted cathodes and testing their performance. To understand the differences, these performance results will be compared directly to the performance of new, pristine cathodes. 

Finally, the Argonne team will also use its EverBatt model, which will allow the researchers to evaluate the costs and environmental effects of applying the direct recycling process to Toyota's batteries. 

"Based on preliminary projections, direct recycling can potentially offer significant cost and carbon footprint savings," says Sarah Kennedy, Operations Manager of Toyota's Battery Lifecycle Solutions Business Development team. "Toyota... will help identify the appropriate pathway for the potential future commercialization of this technology, pending the outcome of the CRADA, as the project is projected to deliver a net improvement in battery materials manufacturing costs, waste, and carbon footprint."