Business plan to commercialize Ames Lab technology wins competition

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A team of undergraduate students from Stanford University won the 2022 EnergyTech University Prize with a project based on a mechanochemical recycling process for lithium-ion batteries that was developed at the U.S. Department of Energy Ames Laboratory. The competition winners were announced on March 25, 2022.

The EnergyTech University Prize is a collegiate competition sponsored by the DOE Office of Technology Transitions (OTT). Multidisciplinary student teams are challenged with developing and presenting a business plan that leverages DOE lab-developed and other high-potential energy technologies. Students compete for more than $250,000 in total cash prizes while receiving mentorship and support. They are required to select an energy technology, assess its market potential, and propose a strategy for commercialization.

For this year’s competition, two different teams (from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities) selected a mechanochemical recycling process for spent lithium-ion batteries for their energy technology. This technology, developed by scientists at Ames Lab and Iowa State University, uses mechanical energy to convert the components of a spent lithium-ion batteries into the constituents needed to make new battery electrodes.

“When we were looking through the list of national lab-developed technologies that the competition administrators posted, the mechanochemical recycling technology stood out to the entire team as a technology with the potential to really change the landscape of LIB recycling in the nation,” said Lyna Kim, one of the members of the winning team, “So we went for it!

Recycling Process
The schematic of mechanochemical recovery of lithium and cobalt from the lithium-ion cell cathode.

Conventional methods for recycling lithium-ion batteries require four steps: physical processing, mechanical processing, chemical conversion, and separation and purification. These steps can emit hazardous waste, are energy-intensive, and could have long processing times. Vitalij Pecharsky, leader of the team that developed this new recycling process, explained that their process combines physical shredding with chemical reactions to make a one-step recycling possible. The approach also does not require heating, pyrometallurgy, or hydrometallurgy.

Prior to the national competition, both teams reached out to Pecharsky to discuss the technology. Kim said that Pecharsky let the team know that the technology is patented and shared information about the context of the research and development of the technology.

“Both teams are excellent teams. They’re very strong, they’re very energetic. Both of them put together very nice presentations,” said Pecharsky. “But, as with any competition, there only could be one winner and the Stanford team came out on top this year."

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science National Laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies, and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities, and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

Ames Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://energy.gov/science.