While recent supply chain challenges are exacerbated by several global issues, almost no industry has been immune to shortages, delays and price increases – including the U.S. vehicle battery industry. electrical.
The heavy reliance on foreign sources for key inputs, such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and graphite, intensifies these effects and has motivated the Biden administration’s policy actions, including the use from Defense Production Act and the $3.16 billion allocation for second-life battery applications at the Department of Energy.
But, as U.S. policymakers look for ways to expand the domestic supply of critical inputs for electric vehicle batteries, it’s crucial that the overall strategy includes a strong effort to facilitate and expand second-life uses, recovery of usable components and recycling of critical materials upon reuse. is not feasible.
If the administration is to achieve its goal of making half of all new automobiles sold electric by 2030, its comprehensive U.S. EV battery resource recovery strategy must include both funding for R&D in design and reuse of batteries, as well as funding for development. testing, handling, transportation and processing standards. Industry standards in these areas will play a critical role in battery reuse and recycling.
If recent trends continue, the current level of battery cell production is well below 10% of global needs projected 10 years from now, which means 90% to 95% of planned battery manufacturing capacity does not currently exist.
Without action to both increase national production capacities and recycle and reuse existing materials, the United States will become even more dependent on foreign supply chains. The development of a safe and secure ecosystem for reuse and recycling of EV batteries in the United States is necessary to extend the useful life of batteries – while providing more than half of the cobalt, lithium and nickel needed by new EV batteries by 2040.
“Fast but careful design of a circular supply chain is necessary to ensure a fair energy transition. There is a lot of work to be done in identifying reuse opportunities before recycling to maximize material use, designing the batteries themselves to facilitate refurbishment and recycling, and ensuring that recycled materials reappear in products,” says Cara Fagerholm, an advanced battery manufacturing engineer at the nonprofit Battery Innovation Center (BIC).
Unfortunately, recycling EV batteries is expensive, difficult to manage, and presents safety and environmental challenges in its current form. In fact, EV battery transportation currently accounts for about 40% of overall EV battery recycling costs in the United States.
To address these challenges, the US government will need to work with manufacturers and recyclers to develop a set of standards for testing and reusing EV batteries to ensure product viability and safety.
It is important to note that reused battery cells can be reused in applications other than vehicles. For example, when batteries degrade to such an extent that they can no longer be used in electric vehicles, they can be used in “peaking” power plant deployments, which increase the capacity of the electricity grid during peak periods. use.
When their useful life is exhausted, their raw materials can be recovered to be used in the manufacture of new cells, thus reducing the cost and environmental impact of mining materials such as nickel, lithium and cobalt.
“The battery ecosystem is rapidly recognizing the need to move from historical agnostic silos to intentional collaborations that ensure the most robust, capable and responsible methodologies today and in the future,” said Ben Wrightsman, CEO of BIC.
The transport, storage and management of used battery cells is one of the factors limiting the creation of large-scale recycling and recovery capacities. Additionally, determining the health and remaining life of a battery requires advanced measurement equipment and data modeling techniques. Supporting investments to establish the infrastructure and associated test and measurement standards is necessary to accelerate a second-life strategy that alleviates existing supply constraints.
Testing standards, coupled with a consistent rating system, would analyze battery materials at the cell level to determine how a battery can be reused, identify recyclable components, and identify recoverable batteries for minerals and critical materials.
Companies such as NI, formerly National Instruments, are working with electric vehicle manufacturers and battery suppliers to evaluate batteries at the cell level, enabling the design, production and integration of electric vehicles.
To advance environmental priorities and meet his 2030 goal for half of all new vehicles to be electric, Administrator Biden. must pave the way for the creation of a robust, verifiable and scalable battery recycling, recycling and reuse program. Such a program must include a reliable system for testing, verifying and classifying used batteries in order to classify them for appropriate second-use applications.
This US electric vehicle battery recycling ecosystem will not only support the battery supply chain, but also have the potential to reduce dependence on foreign supply, increase industry capacity, build US grid capabilities, reduce long-term mining requirements, and ultimately reduce the cost of electric vehicles.
Elijah Kerry (photo, top left) is director of battery solutions and strategy at NI, formerly known as National Instruments, a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software.