June 4 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s strategy to make the United States an electric vehicle powerhouse will include encouraging domestic recycling of batteries to reuse lithium and other metals, according to government officials.
As Biden makes the fight against climate change and competition with China central to his agenda, the government will complete a 100-day review of supply chain gaps in key areas, including electric vehicles (EV), on Friday.
These gaps include the minerals used in EV batteries and consumer electronics. The administration is also looking for ways to reduce metal consumption in new battery chemistries.
Reports from various government agencies are being presented to the White House, a process that Biden ordered in an executive order earlier this year. Parts of the reports could be published as early as next week.
Democrats are pushing for aggressive climate targets to have the majority of U.S.-made cars by 2030 and every car on the roads electric by 2040.
Sourcing enough cobalt, lithium, and other raw materials to make EV batteries is a major hurdle as domestic mines face extensive regulatory hurdles and environmental resistance.
Reuters reported May 25 that Biden plans to rely on mines in allied countries to supply much of the metals needed to build electric vehicles.
Government options to encourage domestic recycling include direct investment in projects and scientific research, and using funds approved by Congress.
Encouraging domestic recycling would help the administration achieve this goal by breaking down older electric vehicles into components for new vehicles, making them less dependent on mining.
“If you look at the way the US has approached the recycling opportunity, it’s very obvious that we need to invest in that capacity, we need to take a more proactive approach,” said one of the administrative officials.
“A big part of the lithium opportunity is really recycling, and we are the world leader in recycling lithium from existing batteries and putting them into these new batteries.”
The White House wants more recycling facilities to open in the United States, one of the officials said, referring to the announcement made by China’s Ganfeng Lithium Co last fall that it is building a battery recycling facility in Mexico to serve the U.S. electric vehicle market.
FOCUS ON R&D
The government’s emerging strategy will also include a strong focus on research and development to encourage the use of already mined metals, officials said.
This plan would effectively expand on-going research at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, which has been the focus of much of the government’s battery recycling research.
Extracting the various mineral constituents of a battery has proven difficult and costly in the past, and new research is focusing on ways to reuse cathodes and other battery parts, according to Argonne researchers.
Washington’s focus on recycling comes from the fact that other regions are doing the same. The European Union is considering restricting metal waste exports to encourage more regional recycling to become climate neutral by 2050.
Worldwide sales of electric vehicles topped 2.5 million last year, a number that is set to increase 70 percent in 2021 and continue to increase through 2040, IHS Markit predicts.
Without recycling, the EV revolution would mean that, according to estimates by the US government, 8 million tons of battery scrap would be deposited in US landfills by 2040 alone.
An April report found that recycling old batteries could reduce the projected need for new sources of copper for EV batteries from mining by 55% by 2040. It is 25% for lithium and 35% for cobalt and nickel. .
Recycling will have the added benefit of lowering demand for new mines, said the report, which was written by conservation group Earthworks and the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures.
That would help Biden avoid some fighting with environmentalists and other voters who oppose mining.
“We can drive the transition to renewable energy without digging new holes in the ground,” said Payal Sampat of Earthworks.
In the past, lead-acid batteries were rarely recycled, but today almost all of them are dismantled for reuse in internal combustion engines. Environmentalists say this could be a blueprint for the electric vehicle recycling industry.
Battery recycling plants are slowly opening in the USA.
Last fall, Amazon.com Inc invested in Redwood Materials, a Nevada-based private recycling company, which signed a contract to recycle scrap and battery parts from a Tennessee-based contractor for Nissan Motor Co’s Leaf electric vehicle.
Tesla Inc recycles some battery parts in its Nevada Gigafactory. And Apple Inc has started recycling old iPhones and other electronics at a facility in Austin, Texas.
The US government is also the largest shareholder in the mining investment firm TechMet, which is a major investor in the Canadian battery recycler Li-Cycle Corp.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Adaptation by Amran Abocar and Cynthia Osterman