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Michigan Technical University Battery Recycling Plant Pilot Project
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Michigan Technical University Battery Recycling Plant Pilot Project

Michigan Technical University is receiving funding to develop a better battery recycling and metal refining technology in partnership with the only nickel mine in the United States.

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The city of Houghton, Michigan, where the new battery recycling facility will be, is seen on October 3, 2013. (Getty/Universal Images Group/Education Images)
Snapshot
  • Project name: Supplying Refined Battery Materials Into the United States Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain by Synergizing Lithium-ion Battery Recycling With Mine Waste Reclamation

  • Program: Electric Drive Vehicle Battery Recycling and Second Life Applications

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • Recipient: Michigan Technical University

  • Investment amount: $8,137,783

  • City: Houghton

  • State: Michigan

  • Congressional districts: 1

  • Construction start date: 2023

  • Jobs created: TBD

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

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The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has awarded the Michigan Technical University (MTU) with $8,137,783 to help ensure a domestic battery supply chain. In partnership with Eagle Mine, the only nickel mine in the United States, the university will develop a battery recycling and metal refining technology that can be commercialized at a faster rate than already exists to produce the products necessary for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Historical context

  • Michigan is central to the automotive industry and EV battery production, so to support the expected increase in demand, the grant will fund research and technology to more sustainably increase mineral and battery production:
    • “‘The state of Michigan is the home to the automotive industry, nickel mining industry and future lithium-ion battery industry in this nation,’ said Lei Pan, associate professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech and principal investigator of both funded projects. ‘Addressing both the supply of critical minerals and reprocessing and reuse of mine tailings is critical to advance sustainability in the mining industry.’” – Michigan Tech News, November 29, 2022
    • “​​More than 1.2 million electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S. over the past two years. Officials say demand for EV battery minerals—such as lithium and graphite—is projected to increase by as much as 4,000 percent in the coming decades. But America currently does not produce enough of the minerals and battery materials needed to power clean energy technologies.” – WNMU-FM, November 17, 2022
  • Eagle Mine, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is the only nickel mine in America. “‘Eagle Mine is proud to partner with Michigan Tech and support sustainable technologies that will create critical mineral pathways for future demand,’ said Darby Stacey, Managing Director of Eagle Mine in a release from Eagle Mine. ‘Eagle Mine is the only nickel mine in the United States, and the availability of our experience and use of our resources, waste streams, and nickel concentrates are essential to understanding the societal impact of the nation’s transportation needs.’” – UP Matters, November 29, 2022

Project summary

  • The grant will help construct a pilot-scale facility to demonstrate innovative battery recycling technology.“The project will develop and demonstrate an innovative synergized battery recycling and metal refining technology and accelerate its commercialization to achieve product demonstration and process validation. The pilot-scale facility (Q3 2023 start) aims to process 5-20 kilowatt hour (kWh) of battery cells and modules per day, producing both intermediate lithium and nickel products as well as battery-grade lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) and nickel sulfate (NiSO4).” – U.S. Department of Energy, last accessed, June 5, 2023
  • The facility will be constructed on the Upper Peninsula and set the goal of commercialized battery technology. “The funding will support the University in moving its research from the lab to a pilot-scale facility that will be newly constructed in the Upper Peninsula. The project team consists of engineers and experts in subject matter, commercialization, permitting and investor/community engagement to ensure the success of this project, with the end goal of enabling the commercialization of these technologies to the benefit of the electric vehicle lithium-ion battery supply chain in the United States.” – Michigan Tech News, November 29. 2022
  • This supports a partnership between MTU and Eagle Mine to prove new sustainable technology to supply minerals for battery manufacturing. “Following an announcement on November 16 from the Biden Administration of $74 million in funding to work on electric vehicle battery recycling and reuse, we are learning more about a partnership between Michigan Tech and Eagle mine to use a portion of the dollars. Michigan Technological University (MTU) and Eagle Mine are co-recipients of $8.1 million. It will be used to prove new research technology for sustainable practices which supply minerals for battery manufacturing. An additional $2.5 million from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (DOE ARPA-E) grant program was also awarded to MTU and Eagle Mine. It will allow Michigan Tech to study carbon dioxide from Eagle Mine’s tailings facility and develop technology for something called accelerated carbon mineralization using mine tailing minerals. According to the ARPA-E website, that means the reaction of Carbon Dioxide with other minerals over a period of time that produces something new.” – UP Matters, November 29, 2022 

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

  • The goal is to improve EV battery material from mixed secondary feedstock in a sustainable manner. “This project addresses several economic and technical challenges in the lithium-ion battery recycling industry, including, 1) low payable metals, 2) difficulty in achieving specifications for battery-grade lithium from mixed secondary feedstock, 3) high operational costs and environmental impact of the state-of-the-art recycling practices.” – U.S. Department of Energy, last accessed June 5, 2023
  • The project will try to establish profitable battery recycling methods. The goal is “[e]stablishing a profitable U.S. battery recycling business regardless of the types of cathode chemistry.” – U.S. Department of Energy, last accessed June 5, 2023
  • This could yield millions of pounds of nickel and cobalt from tailings. “Supplying additional nickel and cobalt minerals from unconventional resources. If further successful, an additional 56 million lbs. of nickel and 2 million lbs. of cobalt from Eagle’s Humboldt Tailing Disposal Facility (HTDF) will be recoverable.” – U.S. Department of Energy, last accessed June 5, 2023

Climate impact

  • “Reducing total energy use and total greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by at least 25% per nickel unit produced compared to the state-of-the-art recycling practice.” – U.S. Department of Energy, last accessed, June 5, 2023
  • “$2.5 million from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program will be used for developing net negative carbon emission extraction technology.” – Upper Michigan’s Source, November 30, 2022

Official supporting statements

  • U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): “Michigan workers are the best in the world and Michigan Tech is home to some of the brightest engineering minds. … This funding not only recognizes Michigan Tech’s world class leadership in science and technology, but helps keep jobs in America and positions our state to lead the way on cutting edge battery recycling.” – Office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, November 16, 2022
  • U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI): “Michigan is a global leader in automotive innovation and developing advanced technologies, thanks in part to work being done at institutions like Michigan Tech. … This federal investment will help give Michigan Tech more resources to develop the technologies needed to recycle and reuse electric vehicle batteries and their materials – which will be absolutely critical to strengthening electric vehicle supply chains nationwide and the future of our automotive sector in Michigan.” – Office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, November 16, 2022
  • President of Michigan Technological University Rick Koubek: “This robust investment will support Michigan Tech’s researchers, faculty, and students’ continued efforts to develop and deploy the next generation of technologies to recycle electric vehicle batteries that will guide the future of the auto industry in Michigan and nationwide. … We thank Senators Peters and Stabenow for their continued support, along with Professor Lei Pan for his leadership of this project.” – Office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, November 16, 2022

Selected clips

  • “Michigan Tech, Eagle Mine awarded over $10 million for EV battery recycling program” – UPword, December 7, 2022

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