A new study by the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) and battery company A123 Systems has found that recycling spent lithium-ion batteries can be as good as, or even better than, newly mined batteries, signalling a positive step for the EV industry.
Until now, getting carmakers to use recycled materials has been a hard sell as they are deemed inferior to commercial materials.
But this research demonstrates that the recycled NMC111 cathodes have a superior rate and cycle performance showing up to 53% longer cycle life.
Recycling the valuable metals in batteries can reduce the environmental impact of mining, prevent millions of tons of batteries from reaching landfills and cut the energy use required to make batteries.
The cathodes were made using a patented recycling technique that Battery Resources is now commercialising. Battery Resources is a company co-founded by Yan Wang, one of the authors of the study.
While the recycled batteries in this study were not tested in cars, they were verified at industrially relevant scales.
Yan Wang says researchers made 11 ampere-hour industry standard pouch cells loaded with materials at the same density as EV batteries.
Using a protocol drawn up by the USABC, which met commercial viability goals for plug-in hybrid EVs, the results prove that recycled cathode materials are a viable alternative to pristine materials.
With EV batteries, most large recycling companies will be able to produce separate elements, which they will sell to battery material companies. These elements will then make the high-grade materials for car and battery makers. But the cathode in an EV battery is where the real value is, said Mr Wang.
These are proprietary combinations of metals including manganese, nickel and cobalt, which are made into particles with specific sizes and structures.
Battery Resources can produce different NMC cathode materials depending on the needs of a car maker, which is how recycling companies could turn a profit.
Mr Wang said: “We are the only company that gives an output that is a cathode material. Other companies make elements. So their value added is less.”
Next year, the company will open its first commercial plant where it will process up to 10,000 tons of batteries.
Last month, it raised $70m and plans to use this money to launch a further two plants in Europe towards the end of next year.