Addressing battery metal recycling risks
American Battery details hurdles to circular battery economy Metal Tech News – April 21, 2021
Last updated 4/20/2021 at 2:16pm
Answering the Biden administration's call for industry input on the risks to battery supply chains in the United States, American Battery Metals Corp. said accelerating lithium-ion battery recycling and next-generation extraction technologies is one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways to increase the supply of the battery-grade nickel, cobalt, lithium, and other materials needed for the transition to electric vehicles.
"Unlike fossil fuels, elemental battery metals are never consumed, and the development of economically competitive battery recycling systems can move industry to a closed-loop circular economy for these critical materials," the Nevada-based company penned in a response to a U.S. Department of Energy request for information on risks in American high-capacity battery supply chains.
While the massive and rapid transition to EVs envisioned by governments and automakers around the world does offer a unique global opportunity to ensure recycling protocols and capacity are established early, it will also require enormous amounts of new metals to prime the envisioned closed-loop circular economy for lithium-ion batteries.
"Industry experts believe supply chain bottlenecks including availability of critical materials will need to be solved to enable wide-spread adoption and usage of EVs," said American Battery Metals COO Menka Sethi. "Our company is addressing this challenge by scaling our proprietary lithium battery recycling and extraction technologies to increase production of critical materials in the United States using low environmental impact processes."
American Battery Metals, which will soon be changing its name to American Battery Technology Company to better reflect its long-term vision of pioneering technologies to sustainably and cost-effectively mine, produce, and recycle battery-grade lithium products into U.S. battery supply chains.
The company believes its efforts are in line with the Biden administration's investments and efforts to electrify American transportation.
"We applaud President Biden's call for sweeping investments in electric vehicles, renewable power and the electric grid as part of a broad blueprint to bolster the U.S. economy while combating climate change," Menka said shortly after President Joe Biden unveiled his $2 trillion infrastructure plan for the U.S.
The massive infrastructure plan is part of a larger effort by the administration to address the renewable energy and e-mobility supply chains.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order prompting federal agencies to take actions that will help secure and strengthen America's supply chains. This included a directive for DOE to submit a report to the White House that identifies risks in the high-capacity battery supply chain and makes policy recommendations to address these risks.
American Battery Technology Company offered its assessment of risks to lithium battery supply chains in the U.S.:
• Geopolitical Risks – Global demand for battery metals is expected to grow more than tenfold by 2030, with a total market value of approximately $100 billion per year. However, the current battery metals industry in the United States is not able to meet this growing demand at home. Approximately 99% of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese battery metals are sourced from a handful of foreign countries.
• Climate Risks – Outdated battery recycling methods pose climate risks in the high-capacity battery supply chain as they generate large amounts of air pollution in the form of fluorine, phosphorous, sulfur-based, and carbon dioxide emissions. Next-generation battery recycling methods are improving environmental outcomes through mechanical and automated, reverse battery manufacturing processes combined with targeted selective cathode grade metal extractions. These new technologies avoid air and liquid emissions through strategic design and avoidance of high-temperature operations, while generating minimal waste.
• Lack of Infrastructure – The safe transportation and storage of lithium-ion batteries is critical to the success of the battery recycling supply chain and to stemming the tide of lithium-ion batteries that end up in landfills. The current domestic regulatory framework for transporting and storing batteries is a challenge for the industry and local communities alike, and one that must be considered for streamlining by policymakers.
• Regulatory Frameworks – Existing regulatory frameworks, such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, were implemented at a time when lithium battery manufacturing and recycling had not yet been fully conceived of at pilot or commercial scales. Although breakthroughs in lithium-ion battery recycling technology allow for faster, economical, and environmentally superior sourcing of critical battery metals, regulatory ambiguities around lithium-ion battery feedstock classification, as hazardous or universal waste, and inconsistencies across state lines inhibit nimble implementation of these technologies at scale.
American Battery says it is already doing its part to address some of these risks, such as helping to provide an environmentally sound domestic source of lithium-ion battery metals. The company's battery metals recycling pilot facility in Nevada, which is in the permitting and construction phase, will process 20,000 metric tons of lithium batteries per year from EVs, consumer electronics, stationary energy storage, and manufacturing waste.
"We expect operations to begin by the end of 2021 and revenue generation in the first quarter of 2022. Its onsite global development center will support both recycling and primary battery metal extraction technologies," said American Battery Metals CEO Doug Cole.
In addition to identifying risks, the company is sharing its technical knowledge about lithium battery safe handling best practices with policymakers to develop frameworks that better enable transport and storage of lithium batteries while protecting climate and community.
When it comes to policies that will help spur lithium recycling in the U.S., American Battery suggests:
• Lithium Battery Classification – Create a new non-waste classification category for lithium-ion batteries, separate from the hazardous waste designation. The company believes this new category will lead to better environmental outcomes, improve sustainability of battery materials in the market, and increase domestic sourcing of battery metals.
• RCRA Waivers – Allow Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and hazardous materials regulations enforcement waivers for storage, transport, and recycling of lithium-ion batteries that are meant for recycling. American Battery says lithium-ion batteries are safe when managed correctly. Adhering to best management practices across industries will ensure safe transportation, handling, and processing during the recycling process. The company says clarification of these practices should be established in partnerships across government, community, and industry to ensure they have broad support from an environmental perspective.
American Battery says it will continue its policy work to ensure the domestic battery supply chains reach their full potential and that American manufacturers can bring innovation, jobs, and secure supply chains to the growing EV sector – in a way that works for local communities, environment, and American companies at the same time.
After collecting and compiling the data from American Battery and others familiar with U.S. battery supply chains, DOE has until June 4 to deliver its final report on the risks to U.S. high-capacity battery supply chains and policy recommendations to address these risks to the White House for consideration.