Reclaiming critical mineral independence
DOE: battery metals, REEs recycling projects is a start for US Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – July 1, 2020
Last updated 7/22/2020 at 4:45am
Recycling metals from spent lithium-ion batteries and rare earths from outmoded computers play a vital role in the United States reclaiming its critical mineral independence, according to Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette.
"Until our country can start mining and refining more of these materials or develop commercially viable substitutes, we must recycle as much critical mineral and REE content as we can from existing products," Brouillette penned in an editorial recently published in RealClearEnergy.
Department of Energy is working on two projects to recover critical minerals from recycled devises – a high-speed shredder that makes recovering rare earths from old computer hard drives more efficient and sustainable; and recovering nickel, cobalt, and manganese from spent lithium-ion batteries.
"A recent American Manganese Inc. project, on which DOE partnered, generated recycled products with purities greater than 98% of the three critical minerals," Brouillette wrote.
With support from DOE and the expertise of Kemetco, a tech company that specializes in analytical chemistry and extractive metallurgy, American Manganese has developed a patented lithium-ion battery recycling process it calls RecycLiCo.
Recent testing by Kemetco produced 98.91, 99.27 and 99.72% pure nickel-cobalt-manganese products from disassembled electric vehicle battery packs provided by a member of the DOE Critical Materials Institute.
In addition to recycling, DOE's national laboratories are researching the potential of recovering critical minerals from other nonconventional sources, such as rare earths from America's vast coal reserves and the lithium needed for batteries from a waste product of geothermal power generation.
"Our plan is to combine innovation and a revived private sector to win the critical minerals battle against China. We will do it diversifying supply, developing substitutes, and driving recycling of critical minerals and rare earth elements," the energy secretary inked in the editorial.
These efforts come at a time when the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are looking for ways to reduce America's reliance on foreign countries, especially China, for critical minerals and metals.
On June 24, Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, hosted a hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on American critical mineral supply chains.
Testifying before the committee, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence Managing Director Simon Moores suggested that the U.S. should invest in the lithium-ion battery supply chain on a scale that is reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
"Instead of dams, you need to build battery megafactories in their multiples. Instead of highways, bridges and tunnels, you need to build the supply chains to enable these megafactories to operate securely and consistently," he said. "These include the cathode and anode plants, and the lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese sources to feed them."
Moores believes that an enormous investment in a complete mines-to-lithium-ion-batteries supply chain could serve two vital purposes – help the U.S. economy recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and retool America's manufacturing sector for a rapidly shifting energy future.
"Lithium-ion batteries are a core platform technology for the 21st century," he said.
Further details on Simon Moore's testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources can be read at New Battery Deal idea floated to Congress in the current edition of Metal Tech News.
Brouillette said DOE is doing its part to help the U.S. win the critical minerals supply chain battle by supporting innovation and a thriving private sector.
"In several days America will celebrate her 244th birthday. A core belief at our founding was that we must be self-reliant as a nation not just to survive, but to thrive. Our over-reliance on countries like China that are not reliable trading partners for critical supply chains threatens our economic and national security," he wrote. "We must reclaim our independence over critical mineral and rare earth element supplies to secure a prosperous future."
Completing a circle that recycles battery metals back to the front end of the supply chain can play a vital role in ensuring America reclaims this critical mineral independence.