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The Biden-Harris administration, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to help guide the implementation of $335 million in investments for lithium-ion battery recycling programs of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, otherwise known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. The DOE says batteries are essential for powering clean energy technologies. Additionally, expanding options for domestically producing zero-emissions transportation will allow more Americans to benefit from clean transportation, while adding jobs to the clean energy workforce and supporting the goals. of President Biden’s decarbonization.

The DOE is seeking input on how federal investments can expedite the collection, transportation, treatment, and recycling of batteries and waste, enable second-life applications of lithium-ion batteries previously used to power electric vehicles, and supporting high-quality jobs for American workers.

In line with President Biden’s Justice40 initiative, the department says it will address equity, environmental and energy justice as it relates to battery recycling and manufacturing. The DOE is seeking input from industry, recyclers, retailers, community organizations, tribes, and state and local governments to ensure that future funding opportunities meet the energy and transportation needs of all Americans.

Responses to the RFI are due October 14 at 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

“Battery recycling not only removes harmful waste from our environment, it also strengthens domestic manufacturing by putting used materials back into the supply chain,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act makes big investments in our clean energy and transportation future and securing our supply chain here at home will allow more Americans to benefit from the many clean technologies powered by lithium batteries.”

While lithium-ion battery costs have fallen more than 90% since 2008, energy density and performance have rapidly increased, paving the way for an accelerated transition to clean transportation, according to the DOE. With the global lithium-ion battery market expected to experience continued growth over the next decade, the DOE says it is working with industry to build a robust and sustainable battery supply chain in the United States that will support increased market demand.

This RFI builds and expands on the DOE’s announcement in May 2022 of $3.16 billion in funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, including $3.1 billion for mills. refining and production of battery materials, cell and battery pack manufacturing facilities and recycling facilities and $60 million to support second-life applications for batteries once used to power electric vehicles and new ones process to recycle materials into the battery supply chain.

Obstacles to overcome

According to the report “Building Resilient Supply Chains, Revitalizing American Manufacturing and Fostering Broad-Based Growth: 100-Day Reviews under Executive Order 14017”, large-scale collection of end-of-life batteries helps ensure a reliable supply of inputs for the recycling. facilities, supporting high usage that is essential for commercially viable recycling. However, beyond collection rates, recyclers face cost pressures that primarily stem from the safe transportation of batteries over long distances to a recycling center as well as the number of sorting and assessment steps that end-of-life batteries must undergo before recycling and the operating costs of the recycling process itself.

According to the “National Lithium Battery Blueprint,” developed by the Federal Advanced Battery Consortium, recyclers face a net end-of-life cost when recycling EV batteries, with battery transportation costs, which are considered a Class 9 hazardous material, making up more than half of end-of-life recycling costs. Shipments of Class 9 materials must meet special packaging requirements and are charged at higher freight rates. Additionally, the complexity of the regulations confuses stakeholders about whether batteries should be treated as hazardous waste or general waste, according to the DOE. Potential policy action and future innovations that could make batteries electrochemically inert would reclassify these end-of-life batteries as non-hazardous, helping to reduce transportation costs and making the overall recycling process more cost-effective, the department adds. .

End of life and manufacturing scrap each have a role to play

In the short term, the DOE says recycling and recovering critical minerals or materials from batteries contained in consumer electronics, as opposed to end-of-life electric vehicles (EVs), could provide an initial resource that can help mitigate supply chain uncertainties and price volatility. related to critical battery materials.

Recycling manufacturing waste could also be a big step for U.S. industry, the DOE and analysts noted. Scrap from new and potentially large US battery cell manufacturing operations would be available for immediate processing, while cells from those factories used in EV products would not enter the recycling stream for 10 years or so. more.

Given the long life of electric vehicle batteries and the scale of electric vehicle deployment to date, the impact of limited household recycling capacity is mitigated, according to the DOE. In addition, when these batteries reach end of life is variable and difficult to predict. The issue of rechargeable battery recycling is further affected by ongoing R&D efforts to identify abundant substitutes for critical battery materials. Despite these uncertainties, a large supply of end-of-life EV batteries could eventually meet a significant portion of critical battery material needs in a circular economy, the DOE adds.

Many companies in the United States and abroad use pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processing and other technologies to recycle critical battery materials. However, the DOE says cost-competitive recovery of materials other than cobalt and nickel constituents remains difficult. While these metals could be used to meet battery demand, they could also meet other material demand streams.

The DOE says its goal is to recover 90% of used lithium batteries and reintroduce 90% of key materials from those batteries into the materials supply chain, adding that a large amount of recovered battery materials could eventually provide a significant portion of the battery’s critical material. needs in the context of a circular economy.

Commitment to solve the necessary challenges

According to the DOE, establishing a national supply chain for lithium batteries requires a national commitment to solving the science challenges of new materials and developing a manufacturing base that meets the demands of growing electric vehicle and electric vehicle markets. fixed network storage.

Resilient supply chains will require new programs to recycle and recover critical materials from end-of-life products, as well as other unconventional sources, such as minerals mined from coal and other mining wastes, which can minimize the need for new mining operations.

Primarily, the policy support is expected to strengthen the domestic supply chain by advancing demand for US-made batteries and spurring the development of a stronger manufacturing base and resilient supply chain, including battery recycling, depending on the department. Policy tools should also strengthen resilient supply chains for critical upstream minerals and materials through a wide range of strategies aimed at increasing the supply of sustainably produced minerals and metals and building refining and of processing required to support manufacturing.