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It’s time to get serious about recycling lithium-ion batteries

As the popularity of electric vehicles starts to grow explosively, so does the pile of spent lithium-ion batteries that once powered those cars. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, China alone will generate some 500,000 metric tons of used Li-ion batteries and that by 2030, the worldwide number will hit 2 million metric tons per year.

In January, for example, US Department of Energy secretary Rick Perry announced the creation of the DOE’s first Li-ion battery recycling R&D center, the ReCell Center. According to Jeffrey S. Spangenberger, the program’s director, ReCell’s key goals include making Li-ion battery recycling competitive and profitable and using recycling to help reduce US dependence on foreign sources of cobalt and other battery materials. Launched with a $15 million investment and headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory, ReCell includes some 50 researchers based at six national laboratories and universities. The program also includes battery and automotive equipment manufacturers, materials suppliers, and other industry partners.

At the same time, the DOE also launched the $5.5 million Battery Recycling Prize. The program’s goal is to encourage entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions for collecting and storing discarded Li-ion batteries and transporting them to recycling centers, which are the first steps in turning old batteries into new ones.