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Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

ORNL’s robot tears down lithium-ion battery pack 8x quicker than by hand

Fri, 09/03/2021 - 15:17 -- paul Crompton
ORNL’s robot lithium-ion battery pack

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a robotic disassembly system for used lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles.

The robots accelerate disassembly and make the process of breaking any type of battery stack safer for workers, while increasing throughput.

ORNL project team member Jonathan Harter estimates the automated system could handle 100 or more battery stacks in the time it takes to disassemble 12 by hand.

The system breaks down the battery stack to sections, then to modules, then to cells. 

ORNL has developed other processes to break down those cells to the pouch/anode/cathode/separator components. They have also developed control technologies to repurpose spent EV batteries for grid energy storage.

Economically feasible recyling

Harter believes that to make recycling more economically feasible, it must be done at high throughput and be flexible enough to process multiple consumer products in a single facility. 

He said: “Industry is not limited on the amount of batteries they can take into this process. There is a significant backlog already accumulated. 

“The limiting factor is the time it takes to perform the electrical discharge and perform disassembly manually.”

The robots remove bolts and other housing regardless of any remaining charge, whereas human operators must undertake lengthy processes to discharge used batteries before breaking them down manually. 

The automated system was developed as part of DOE’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI).

It can be programmed to access the individual battery modules for refurbishment or reuse as stationary energy storage, or the batteries can be taken down to the cell level for separation and materials recovery.  

The work builds on expertise developed in previous ORNL projects for the CMI that focused on robotic disassembly of hard drives for recovery of rare-earth magnets. 

Engineers also proved that those magnets can be directly reused in electric motors.

The researchers follow the same protocol each time: breakdown the used component manually and collect data on that process to create the robotic tools and controls needed to drive an automated system.

The next step could be building the process up to commercial scale, and applying the same kind of disassembly system to electric vehicle drive trains for recovery of materials such as rare earth magnets, copper, steel and intact power electronics. 

The system was developed and demonstrated at ORNL’s Grid Research Integration and Deployment Center.

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Environmentally friendly lithium-ion battery recycling method announced by ORNL

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 16:33 -- paul Crompton
Environmentally friendly lithium-ion battery recycling method announced by ORNL

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a solvent that enables a “more environmentally friendly” process for recycling lithium-ion batteries.

The ORNL-developed wet chemical process uses triethyl phosphate to dissolve the binder material that adheres cathodes to metal foil current collectors in lithium-ion batteries.

The method can recover cobalt-based cathodes, graphite and other valuable materials like copper foils for reuse in new batteries.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Yaocai Bai told BEST: "We are working with the battery industry and several companies are interested in this patented technology.

"The pyrometallurgical process involves the high energy cost of using high-temperature kilns and the detrimental generation of gaseous pollutants. The hydrometallurgical process involves caustic reagents and wastewater treatment. In contrast, our method utilises a green solvent that can be recycled and reused, making the process more environmentally friendly.

"The cost of this process is currently being evaluated. We are using the EverBatt model developed by the DOE ReCell Center to study both the cost and environmental aspects of our process. We believe the cost is low because of the reusability of the green solvent."

The use of, triethyl phosphate enabled the recovery of cobalt-containing cathodes, such as NMC622, by dissolving the polymeric binder of poly (vinylidene fluoride). 

Electrochemically active materials were separated from cathode scraps collected at the manufacturing step of electrodes through a solvent-based separation method without jeopardizing their physical characteristics, crystalline structure, and electrochemical performance. 

The team reported the recovered aluminum foils had no sign of corrosion and the polymeric binder could be recovered via a non-solvent-induced phase separation.

Additionally, recovery of cathode materials from spent cells was achieved using refined separation parameters based on the recycling of cathode scraps.

ORNL’s Ilias Belharouak said: “With this solvent, we’re able to create a process that reduces toxic exposure for workers and recovers valuable, undamaged, active NMC [nickel-manganese-cobalt] cathodes, clean metal foils and other materials that can be easily reused in new batteries.” 

To date, the tem has only tested the technology on a "few kilograms" of battery scrap.


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ORNL‘s polymer and ceramic composite promises better solid-state electrolyte for lithium metal batteries

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 10:56 -- paul Crompton

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a thin film, highly conductive solid-state electrolyte made of a polymer and ceramic-based composite for lithium metal batteries. 

The electrolyte’s novel design is a three-dimensional interconnected structure that can provide mechanical robustness and high lithium ionic conductivity at room temperature.

Image: A thin film solid-state electrolyte with a three-dimensionally interconnected structure was fabricated by ORNL researchers. The structure increased conductivity through the ceramic base. Credit: Xi Chen/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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