UW System awards Niu $50K to create green technology to support growing use of lithium-ion batteries

Junjie Niu

In May, Junjie Niu was awarded a $50,000, 12-month Ignite Grant from UW System to create a green technology to recycle and manufacture spent lithium-ion batteries. Niu is a Richard and Joanne Grigg associate professor, materials science & engineering, in UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science.

As the U.S. addresses the surging demand for lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicle and cordless tool markets, huge amounts of used batteries will need to be recycled, Niu says.

In the next nine years, he says, the global recycling market for this type of battery is projected to grow from $4.6 billion to $22.8 billion. In this project, Niu will turn his attention to finding an eco-friendly way to do that.

His goal is to create lithium-ion battery manufacturing and recycling technologies that reduce energy consumption by 20 percent compared with traditional methods and significantly reduce the environmental impact caused by inappropriate management of associated waste.

Such technologies would provide Wisconsin industries with a low-cost, efficient way to recycle used batteries and use recovered cobalt, lithium, and manganese to be used in the manufacturing of new batteries.

UW System’s support of Niu’s green technology research

With funds made available by the state legislature and the governor, UW System Ignite Grants support applied research projects and prototype development that support economic development in Wisconsin. They are awarded each spring to a handful of faculty members from universities throughout the UW System. 

UW System’s financial support has advanced Niu’s eco-friendly discoveries in clean water technology and energy efficiency. Last year, for example, the system awarded him another 2021-22 Ignite grant to further his research to develop a hybrid material that chemically degrades per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are pervasive, toxic man-made chemicals that don’t break down naturally in the environment or in bodies.

Thanks in part to UW System grants, Niu has filed invention disclosures, received funding from the National Science Foundation to further this research, and created a Milwaukee-based start-up company, Niu Energy, devoted to providing high-quality electrode materials for high energy-density lithium-ion batteries.