USA to focus on domestic EV battery recycling

The US government is wrapping up a 100-day review of the country’s supply chains in key areas such as e-mobility this week. The White House is presented with reports from several federal agencies, which could be released soon. So far, everything points to increasing battery recycling capacity across the US.

The supply chain analysis for battery resources goes back to an earlier Executive Order President Joe Biden ordered in late February. The investigation was to cover a 100-day review across federal agencies to address vulnerabilities in the supply chains of “four key products”. These were not limited to electric vehicle production and included “critical minerals” such as carbon fibre and chips.

In its latest report, Reuters confirmed the above priorities. They added that administration officials said that Biden wants the US to become the leading market for electric vehicles by stressing domestic battery recycling. Biden said he is relying on mines in allied countries to source new metals for use in electric vehicles. The US government is also looking for ways to reduce metal use in new battery chemistries through efforts in R&D, the news agency reports.

While the US has raw material resources, securing enough cobalt, lithium and other raw materials to make EV batteries is complex, with domestic mines facing regulatory hurdles and environmental opposition, according to Reuters.

Domestic recycling would help the administration to rely less on mining to manufacture new electric vehicles. Tools include direct investment in recycling projects and scientific research and funds approved by Congress.

“When you look at the way the US has approached the recycling opportunity, what’s very evident is we need to invest in that capacity, we need to take a more proactive approach,” said one of the administration officials cited by Reuters.

Without recycling, the electric car surge would result in eight million tons of battery waste ending up in landfills by 2040 in the U.S. alone, so the news agency. The report cites US government estimates. Reuters also cites a recent study by environmental group Earthworks and the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, which found that recycling old batteries could reduce the projected demand for new copper for electric car batteries from mining by 55 per cent by 2040. For lithium, the figure is 25 per cent, and for cobalt and nickel, 35 per cent.

Accordingly, the White House would like to see more recycling plants open in the United States. Examples include Stelco and Primobius or Li-Cycle and GM looking into setting up recycling plants in North America. Tesla too is working on reusing EV batteries at the Nevada plant and wants to do the same in Shanghai. The company is working closely with Redwood Materials, a recycling company by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel.

Focus on recycling and battery R&D

The administration’s emerging strategy will also include a heavy emphasis on research and development intended to boost the use of already-mined metals, the officials told the news agency.

R&D funding comes primarily through the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, which has been the focal point for the government’s battery recycling research. The lab earlier this year announced a goal of lowering the cost of EV batteries to $80 per kilowatt-hour, which could be achieved if recycled materials from lithium-ion batteries are reused in new batteries, reducing production costs by 10 to 30 per cent.

New research focuses on reusing cathodes and other battery parts, according to Argonne researchers speaking to Reuters.

US Climate Policy

The 100-day review is in line with the Democrats pushing climate goals to have most US-made cars be electric by 2030 and every car on the road be electric by 2040. There is also the Clean Transit For America Plan concerning fleet electrification and public transport. Biden started his term by issuing an Executive Order aiming to put climate change on top of the agenda at the end of January. It included that all of the government’s approximately 645,000 vehicles nationwide would be replaced by electric vehicles.

The Democrats have since followed up with the ‘CLEAN Future Act’ to achieve an emission-free economy by 2050 through measures in all sectors. For the transport sector, the bill envisages significant investments in electrification, as reported in March.

In April, the government further announced a two-trillion-dollar plan to revamp the country’s infrastructure and delivered details on electrification a week after.


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