How Argonne's battery research center could mean cheaper electric cars

 
 
Posted2/25/2019 5:30 AM
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  • Argonne National Laboratory researchers already possess technology that will be used at the ReCell lithium-ion battery recycling center.

    Argonne National Laboratory researchers already possess technology that will be used at the ReCell lithium-ion battery recycling center. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

  • Graphite is one material used in lithium-ion batteries that Argonne National Laboratory scientists hope to develop smart ways of recycling.

    Graphite is one material used in lithium-ion batteries that Argonne National Laboratory scientists hope to develop smart ways of recycling. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

  • Argonne researchers will use existing battery test equipment to find innovative ways to extract the raw materials inside.

    Argonne researchers will use existing battery test equipment to find innovative ways to extract the raw materials inside. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

  • Argonne National Laboratory is starting up a research center on recycling lithium-ion batteries that should reduce the cost of hybrid and electric cars.

    Argonne National Laboratory is starting up a research center on recycling lithium-ion batteries that should reduce the cost of hybrid and electric cars. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Argonne National Laboratory researchers are exploring new ways to recycle the raw materials in lithium-ion batteries to encourage production in the U.S.

    Argonne National Laboratory researchers are exploring new ways to recycle the raw materials in lithium-ion batteries to encourage production in the U.S. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

  • CTA branches out: Taking transit in Chicago and feeling peckish? Cellphone dying? The CTA is catering to riders' needs with a potpourri of vending machines at downtown stations. MobileQubes stations will sell or rent cellphone battery chargers at multiple Red Line stations with an initial fee of $4.99. Farmer's Fridge machines will offer healthy snacks and drinks at the Red Line Grand stop, and at Fullerton on the Red, Brown and Purple lines. Plus, if you need a snapshot, DNP's photo booth is available at the Chicago Red Line stop.

    CTA branches out: Taking transit in Chicago and feeling peckish? Cellphone dying? The CTA is catering to riders' needs with a potpourri of vending machines at downtown stations. MobileQubes stations will sell or rent cellphone battery chargers at multiple Red Line stations with an initial fee of $4.99. Farmer's Fridge machines will offer healthy snacks and drinks at the Red Line Grand stop, and at Fullerton on the Red, Brown and Purple lines. Plus, if you need a snapshot, DNP's photo booth is available at the Chicago Red Line stop.

Recycling AAAs is one thing. But what happens when your trusty Prius' battery goes kaput?

Perhaps in the future you can lug it to Argonne National Laboratory where scientists are charged up over a game-changing lithium-ion battery recycling center that would reduce U.S. dependence on other countries and cut green car costs.

Dubbed the ReCell Center, the facility aims to invent smarter ways to recycle and reuse the valuable materials in lithium-ion batteries that power everything from laptops to hybrid and electric vehicles.

"There's a smattering of research in this area but it's sporadic and all over the board geographically. The ReCell Center offers a location where people can come to use our expertise and equipment," ReCell Center Director Jeff Spangenberger said.

Battery innards such as lithium mostly originate outside the U.S. and recycling is typically outsourced. Government officials hope the DIY project will spark a domestic industry and provide the U.S. with a reliable stream of recycled components as demand for hybrid and electric cars grows.

"These efforts will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of critical materials," said Daniel R. Simmons, a U.S. Department of Energy assistant secretary.

Another fringe benefit: "Ultimately it will help people get cheaper electric vehicles," Spangenberger noted.

Lithium-ion batteries emerged about two decades ago. Now that the cars and batteries are starting to reach the end of their lifelines, the timing is perfect to create a homegrown industry, officials said.

"This is an area of research that isn't being done by companies currently because it's high-risk, but there's also a high reward potential," Spangenberger said. Instead of companies investing in costly R & D, "we take that risk out."

The Department of Energy has dedicated $15 million over three years to the ReCell Center at the Darien-based lab. There's gold to be found in spent batteries -- expensive ingredients such as lithium, graphite and cobalt mostly mined and processed in locations like South America, Australia and Africa, while a large amount of recycling occurs in China. Problematic political situations and trading partnerships with some countries underscore the need for a domestic industry, the Department of Energy said.

Researchers will use existing equipment and pioneer techniques to find shortcuts to restore the raw material and plug it into new batteries.

The project will include scientists and engineers from other national labs and the private sector. At the end of three years, the lab intends to offer a recycling model to spark U.S. battery production, officials said.

"No one person will solve this problem, we will rely on everybody's work," Spangenberger said.

You should know

BNSF Line commuters have a chance to advise Metra on their likes and dislikes as the railroad considers tweaking the schedule. Riders can complete an online survey at metrarail.com/bnsf2019 now through March 17. Metra adjusted the schedule in June 2018 as it shifted to a new automatic braking system, but the rollout was rough. Now that the kinks are worked out of the braking system, the agency will recalibrate the train schedule.

Your voice

Last week's column about travel scams and the need to double-check before booking a hotel caught the attention of Wheaton's Bob Warzin. "I usually book directly with the airline and hotel," Warzin wrote. "If you do your homework, you can get good deals. I've read too many horror stories like you described regarding refunds, cancellations etc. I have used brick and mortar travel agents for cruises and Apple vacations. Never had a problem with that."

Got a comment about any transportation concerns? Drop an email to mpyke@dai yherald.com.

Gridlock alert

If you're driving on the Kennedy Expressway this week be aware of overnight lane closures near the Monroe Street bridge. IDOT workers are replacing a beam, which means lane closures on the southbound Kennedy and the Jackson and Adams exit ramps starting at 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. On the weekend, lane closures in both directions of the Kennedy near Monroe and ramp closures at Randolph, Madison, Adams and Jackson begin at 10 p.m. Lanes and ramps reopen by 10 a.m. Sunday and 5 a.m. weekdays.

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