Worcester Polytechnic research team wins award from USABC for battery recycling process

An engineering research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts recently won a million-dollar contract from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) to develop an innovative process for recycling used Li-ion batteries.

The team, led by WPI professor Yan Wang, it created a patented closed-loop recycling process that works like this: the batteries are shredded and the materials are segregated. After that, the team dissolves the cathode powders. They adjust the chemical makeup of the solution and use it to create new cathode materials for new batteries. The process also recycles steel, plastic and graphites.

The process was originally developed for batteries with more cobalt, but as the industry moves away from that material, the new funding will allow the team to finesse the process toward cathode powders with higher nickel formulations.

The team wants to show that they can make nickel-rich cathode powders that are just as as viable as commercial, non-recycled powder. They also plan to research the effects of various anode materials such as silicon, lithium and titanium dioxide on the recycling process.

“WPI is the first and only university to be granted an award from the USABC,” Wang said. “The consortium’s funding usually goes to industry, because the focus is always on innovations that can be commercialized and used by the automotive industry. The USABC and the OEMs have been very helpful to us as we have worked to perfect and commercialize our process, because they see this as a viable solution to their growing end-of-life battery problem.”

As in the original USABC-funded project, the work of making and testing new automotive batteries using the high-nickel cathode powders produced by Wang’s team will be subcontracted to A123 Systems and Battery Resourcers, a company that has licensed WPI’s patented Li-ion battery recycling process.


Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • freedomev

    Considering how pure Cathodes have to be I’d think they would have to take it back to pure metals, etc then reassemble them once purified.

    • Mark

      Surely it has to be easier to get to pure metals from something that was mostly a pure metal and being recycled, than from raw ore though? There should be far fewer impurities to sort out, it’s just a matter of if the impurities are more or less difficult to sort out. I guess that is the point of their patented process – they’ve worked out how to do it.

      Also, if you are going to mix Nickel or Cobalt back in anyway, it might be even better to not separate some of the components.

      • freedomev

        I’m for mandatory battery recycling just like we do for lead batteries and for the
        same reasons.
        One needs to sort claims especially from people looking for grants. Refining back to pure metal is the way to control impurities or they tend to catch fire as Sony, many others have found out the hard way.
        Unlikely lithium batteries of the future will have much cobalt, it any at all as a block to lower cell cost as all the producers move that way.
        Battery production needs to increase 100x and not enough cobalt for that so it must go. Likely have to cut nickel too.