Recovery of Critical Materials from end-of-life devices in the Critical Materials Institute

T. Lister, Y. Fujita, S. McCall
Idaho National Laboratory,
United States

Keywords: critical REE, lithium, end-of-life, recycling


Since 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute (CMI) has been investigating the recovery of critical materials from end-of-life products, with the goal of enabling clean energy technologies. Critical materials (e.g., rare earth elements, platinum group metals, lithium, cobalt, graphite) are contained in components and devices indispensable to electric vehicles and renewable energy adoption, such as magnets and motors, hard disk drives, and batteries. Supply chains for many of these materials are fragile, and therefore shoring up these supply chains is essential to realization of domestic clean energy goals. In addition to increasing primary production and developing substitute materials and processes less reliant on critical materials, expanding and improving recycling will be necessary. Current recycling methods such as pyrometallurgy can recover most of the metal value in end-of-life products, but rare earth element (REE) and lithium recovery are challenging. In addition, pyrometallurgy and other conventional end-of-life recovery approaches often have significant energy and environmental costs. CMI aims to develop more environmentally sustainable approaches for critical material recycling, often coupled with co-recovery of higher value materials such as copper and gold that can improve the economic return. These lower impact processes include unconventional methods such as microbiology and electrochemistry in the recovery strategy. Researchers must consider upstream and downstream operations, and in some cases develop complete flow-sheets to maximize recovery value. Iterative economic and environmental assessments during development mitigate the risk of funding approaches with limited commercial utility. This presentation will cover a selection of critical material recycling approaches developed within CMI, an Energy Innovation Hub funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Office of the U.S. Department of Energy.