Anaheim-based Toxco says it will use the funds to expand an existing facility in Lancaster, OH, that already recycles the lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride batteries used in today's hybrid-electric vehicles.
The Trail facility is also the only one in the world that can handle different sizes and chemistries of lithium batteries. When old batteries arrive they go into a hammer mill and are shredded, allowing components made of aluminum, cooper, and steel to be separated easily. Larger batteries that might still hold a charge are cryogenically frozen with liquid nitrogen before being hammered and shredded; at -325 degrees Fahrenheit, the reactivity of the cells is reduced to zero. Lithium is then extracted by flooding the battery chambers in a caustic bath that dissolves lithium salts, which are filtered out and used to produce lithium carbonate. The remaining sludge is processed to recover cobalt, which is used to make battery electrodes. About 95 percent of the process is completely automated.
The DOE grant will help Toxco transfer the Trail recycling process to its Ohio operations, laying the foundation for an advanced lithium-battery recycling plant that can expand to accommodate expected growth in the US electric-vehicle market. The electric-car maker Tesla Motors, like most major automakers, already sends old or defective battery packs to Toxco's Trail facility for recycling. "It's very important for us," says Kurt Kelty, director of energy storage technologies at Tesla. "The recycling issue is a key issue and we need to get it right."