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Scientists at UC San Diego Receive $10M Department of Energy Grant to Promote Battery Recycling

It’s part of an effort to build better electric vehicles and transition to a clean-energy future

Scientists at UC San Diego Receive $10M Department of Energy Grant to Promote Battery Recycling
Photo by David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Full size.

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A team including scientists at the University of California San Diego has been chosen to lead a $10M project to promote battery recycling and reuse. It’s part of a $74M award from the United States Department of Energy program on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for ten programs that are at the forefront of battery recycling technology for electric vehicles. 

“Our vision is to address key challenges of energy security and environmental sustainability by leveraging the unique skills and experiences in our lab and the broad fundamental knowledge in physics and chemistry we have developed,” said Zheng Chen, a professor of nanoengineering affiliated with the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at UC San Diego and leader of the effort. “To that end, we’ve developed technology that is able to process impure spent batteries and recycle them into their original properties and qualities.”

This process is formally known as the Purification and Regeneration Integrated Materials Engineering, or “PRIME” process. It separates inactive materials (including inactive additives such as binder, conductive carbon and metal foil) from cathode active materials. These inactive materials are necessary for battery operation but unnecessary for cathode active material production. The PRIME process removes these impurities and returns pure cathode active materials to the battery manufacturing supply chain.

Chen leads a team of researchers from UC San Diego, Arizona State University, the University of Chicago, General Motors, ExPost Technology, and Argonne National Laboratory. The team is collaborating to address key challenges in battery recycling using core technology developed in the Sustainable Materials and Energy Laboratory that Chen leads at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Besides DOE support, California Energy Commission will also contribute another $1.2M matching fund to support the development in California.

“With this grant, we aim to demonstrate scale up and pilot our process to a one-ton scale, reintegrating spent batteries into the supply chain to demonstrate the technological advantages of this process, as well as the environmental and economic benefits,” said Chen.

This project pushes forward a worldwide transition to clean energy and aligns with provisions in President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Defense Production Act, aimed to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign materials, supercharge domestic manufacturing and create good-paying clean energy jobs. 

“We have a strong team with not only recycling and cathode experts but also solid support from the national laboratory and industry partners,” said Weikang Li, a member of Chen’s team and a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego’s Department of Nanoengineering. “Teamwork is absolutely important. Therefore, with the Department of Energy’s full support, we are confident of accomplishing the proposed target and aim to achieve higher goals.”

Read more in the San Diego Union Tribune.

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