CHAMPION, Mich. (WJMN) – 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.

“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.”

“The State of Michigan is the home to the automotive industry, nickel mining industry, and future lithium-ion battery industry in this nation,” said Dr. Lei Pan, associate professor of chemical engineering at Michigan Tech and principal investigator (PI) 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.”

According to the release from Eagle Mine, here’s how the funding proposal came together:

MTEC SmartZone (Houghton) and the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also contributed towards the successful grant application. In collaboration with Michigan Tech, MTEC leveraged the MEDC’s Federal Match Program and Technology Transfer Talent Network (T3N) program by providing matching funds toward cost-shares required in the $8.1M award, and to recruit and hire an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the project. MTEC was intimately involved in helping establish Nion Metals LLC and worked in concert with Nion Metals in the development of pro forma budgets, market analysis, competitor due diligence, and technology commercialization planning. MTEC also provided assistance with the grant writing, editing and review; developed presentation materials; and assisted in obtaining letters of support from industry and two national labs.

“This was a collaborative effort between Nion Metals, Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, MTEC SmartZone, and Eagle Mine,” said David Rowe, CEO of MTEC SmartZone. “MTEC SmartZone’s mission is to accelerate high-tech business growth, and this project is a prime example of that function.”

“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,” said Rick Koubek, President of Michigan Technological University. “We thank our industry partners and Eagle Mine for supporting this research that will lead to new critical mineral technologies.”

According to the release, funding for the project, called “Nion Project,” will help MTU and Eagle Mine address 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 current state-of-the-art recycling practices.

The funding will support MTU in moving its research from the lab to a pilot-scale facility that will be newly constructed in the Upper Peninsula.

“We have the technology and resources in the Upper Peninsula to make a positive impact on the nation,” said Darby Stacey, Managing Director of Eagle Mine. “This partnership will not only help advance new technologies in our nation but, if ultimately successful, will also bring new construction and jobs to the Upper Peninsula.”

Potential project impacts also include:

  • Reducing total energy use and total greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by at least 25 percent per nickel unit produced compared to the current state-of-the-art recycling practice.
  • Establishing a profitable battery recycling business regardless of the types of cathode chemistry.
  • 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) could be recoverable.