Recycling Rare Earth Metals from Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries

EPA Contract Number: EPD12009
Title: Recycling Rare Earth Metals from Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries
Investigators: Sloop, Steven E
Small Business: OnTo Technology LLC
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012
Project Amount: $80,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Innovation in Manufacturing


This Phase I Small Business Innovation Research Project develops methods of recycling rare earth alloys from used nickel metal hydride batteries. Alloys of rare earth metal, nickel and other metals provide functional hydride storage materials that are critical to the operation of nickel metal hydride batteries and their applications. The current fleet of hybrid electric vehicles relies upon nickel metal hydride batteries. The first fleet of vehicles manufactured in the early 2000s will reach recycling age in the 2010s. Nickel metal hydride batteries represent a billion dollar industry, and the growth will continue in hybrid electric vehicles, grid storage and consumer electronic applications. Currently, end-of-life nickel metal hydride batteries find use as feedstock for stainless steel manufacturing. The practice disposes of the battery safely, but does not recover any rare earth elements, and shorts potential benefits for battery rare earth recycling, such as reduction in manufacturing cost and reliance on rare-earth mining. When nickel metal hydride is used for stainless steel, battery replacement and its market growth remains reliant on mined rare earth metals. This project will recycle the rare earth material from used nickel metal hydride negative electrodes, making them useful for manufacturing new nickel metal hydride batteries. Positive results from this project will be the technical foundation for a new industry aimed at recycling advanced batteries from the growing fleet of hybrid electric vehicles. The consistent, low-cost source of material coupled with low-cost processing can help stabilize the manufacturing cost of nickel metal hydride batteries based upon spikes in the price of rare-earth elements and nickel metal. Current rare earth metal prices, with elements such as lanthanum ~ $150/kg, threaten the economic viability of nickel metal hydride batteries, which have a high safety and performance track record in today’s hybrid electric vehicles. Successful recycling developed in this proposal is an economic way for The Nation to conserve critical resources and establish the next generation of industrial infrastructure to serve the growing hybrid electric vehicle market.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

metal, rare earth metal, alloy, nickel, battery, nickel metal hydride battery, recycle, recycling, hybrid electric vehicle

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report