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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cooper

GFO-20-308 - Research and Development of High-Value Recycling Pathways for Lithium-Ion Batteries

SUBMISSION DEADLINE March 15, 2021, 5:00 pm

QUESTIONS DEADLINE January 28, 2021, 5:00 pm


The purpose of this solicitation is to fund applied research and development projects that advance the technology readiness, commercial scale-up pathways, and environmental benefits of high-value recycling processes for lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries will play a central role in transitioning California’s electricity and transportation sectors to becoming zero emission over the coming decades. Senate Bill 100 (De León, 2018) establishes the goal of providing 100 percent of retail electric sales in California with renewable and zero carbon electricity by 2045. Preliminary analyses suggest achieving this target could require cumulative capacity additions of grid-connected battery storage in the range of 50 GW by 2045,[1] much of which is expected to be provided by lithium-ion batteries. Simultaneous electrification of transportation will require even larger deployment of lithium-ion batteries in plug in electric vehicles (PEVs). Executive Order N-79-20 sets targets for 100 percent of passenger vehicles and trucks sold after 2035 to be zero emission as well as transitioning medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles to zero emission wherever feasible by 2045.[2] The combined retirements of grid-connected stationary storage and PEV batteries reaching end-of-life will create a large potential electronic waste stream that needs to be sustainably managed.

Lithium-ion batteries from stationary storage and PEVs also have significant potential value at end-of-life for reuse and eventual recycling. Recycling and introduction of recovered materials into supply chains can reduce the need for virgin materials, thereby avoiding the environmental and social impacts associated with their production. Recycled materials may also substitute as lower cost feedstocks in the fabrication of new batteries, resulting in reduced purchase costs for batteries in PEVs and stationary storage applications. Establishing recycling expertise and capability within California creates opportunities for clean energy jobs and can contribute to the state’s economic development. Motivated by these potential benefits and the need to sustainably manage projected battery waste streams, Assembly Bill 2832 (Dahle, 2018) created the Lithiumion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group in 2019.[1] The interagency group is consulting with researchers and other experts in battery recycling to develop policy recommendations for the Legislature to enable reuse and recycling of as close to 100 percent as possible of PEV battery waste at end-of-life.

Improvements in lithium-ion battery recycling processes are needed to efficiently recover materials and to produce recycled materials with greater economic value. Previous investments have demonstrated the viability of high-value recycling processes that can recover cathode and other materials from used lithium-ion batteries and restore their quality and performance to match those made from virgin materials (referred to as “direct recycling”).[2] By recovering cathode and other materials in functional forms that feed into battery manufacturing as opposed to earlier in the supply chain, direct recycling processes produce higher value products for a variety of lithium-ion battery chemistries, including those with low cobalt content. Direct recycling can also recover other major battery constituents such as the graphite used in anodes, further improving potential environmental and economic benefits compared to existing processes.[3]

Direct recycling processes are in relatively early stages of technology development—estimated to have a technology readiness level (TRL) of approximately 3-4, with efforts focused at the lab-scale and with limited information on commercial operations available. Further improvements can be realized through advancements in separation techniques, optimization of processes, and evaluation of how to scale-up direct recycling processes toward pilot demonstrations. Further efforts are also needed to demonstrate the performance of recovered materials when incorporated into new batteries. Testing the performance, safety, and reliability of recycled products can help build manufacturer confidence and willingness to substitute these for virgin materials. A previous CEC award explored direct recycling of cathode and anode materials, demonstrating viability at bench scales.[4]

This solicitation builds from previous investments to fund multidisciplinary applied research and development projects with the goals of: 1) improving lithium-ion battery direct recycling processes, 2) demonstrating pathways for incorporation of recycled materials into battery manufacturing, and 3) informing scale-up and future commercialization efforts to establish direct recycling capacity in California.

[1] CalEPA Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group. [2] Gaines, L. 2018. “Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Processes: Research Towards a Sustainable Course.” Sustainable Materials and Technology 17. [3] Sloop, S. et al. 2020. “A Direct Recycling Case Study from a Lithium-ion Battery Recall.” Sustainable Materials and Technology 25. [4] Hailey, P. and Kepler, K. 2016. “Direct Recycling Technology for Plug-in Electric Vehicle Lithium-ion Battery Packs.”

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