- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced plans for a $20.5 million investment in lithium-ion battery recycling, with the goal of boosting capture rates to 90%, from a current rate of less than 5%.
- These investments include $15 million to create a new Lithium Battery R&D Recycling Center in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
- The remaining $5.5 million will be used as prize money in a contest seeking "solutions to collecting, storing, and transporting discarded lithium-ion batteries for eventual recycling." According to DOE, the contest will be "designed to accelerate the development of solutions from concept to prototype to demonstration."
This announcement came from DOE Secretary Rick Perry at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s American Energy Innovation Council event in Washington, D.C. last week. It aligns with previously stated Trump administration priorities outlined in a 2017 executive order that repeatedly emphasized the value of boosting "recycling" and "reprocessing" of "critical minerals." Lithium and cobalt, key resources in batteries, were also added to a list of "critical minerals" last year.
“Our goal is to reclaim and recycle critical materials from lithium-based battery technology that's widely used across our society. We aim to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of this material by encouraging entrepreneurs to capture up to 90% of America's lithium-based battery technology. This would strengthen our energy security, expand our economic security and bolster national security," said Perry during the event.
Both sales and potency of batteries are expected to rise in the coming years as they become more prevalent in electric vehicles, personal electronics and other products. This demand has yielded growing attention from companies and governments alike.
Last year, China launched a battery recycling pilot in 17 cities and regions, and began working on new policies to support further growth. In the U.S., Tesla claims to have found ways to reduce its use of cobalt — an expensive imported mineral — to "almost nothing" in electric vehicle batteries. This week, Toyota and Panasonic announced their own joint venture to research and manufacture vehicle batteries.
Despite all this global interest, lithium battery recycling is generally seen as an expensive option in the U.S. Companies such as Battery Resourcers in Massachusetts are actively working to change that, but the market is still growing. This stands in contrast with lead-acid batteries, which have an estimated 99% recovery rate and are banned from disposal under federal regulations. Only one state currently requires recycling for all lithium batteries, and two require it for lithium-ion.
The DOE's press release specifies the goal is developing technologies that can "profitably" hit a 90% capture rate, indicating that a market-driven solution is preferable to a regulatory one. Regardless of the approach, any significant progress in expanding recycling solutions would be a boon for the waste and recycling industry. Beyond vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are also a rapidly growing part of the e-waste stream and have been linked in recent years to numerous fires when improperly sent to MRFs.