By on June 7, 2021

Having covered the White House’s incredibly expansive and costly infrastructure plan, specifically as it pertains to transitioning the entire nation toward alternative energy vehicles, we’ve often found ourselves asking questions. Puzzlers include wondering whether or not consumers actually want this change and how can we possibly expect to pay for this when we’ve already starting conjuring money out of thin air for other government programs. We don’t even know where we’re supposed to get the rare-earth minerals necessary for production when mining them is heavily regulated in the United States and hardly an endeavor that would be considered kind to the natural landscape.

Last week proved that we weren’t entirely alone in pondering how all of this greenification is supposed to work. 

On Friday, Reuters confirmed that numerous government agencies are pressing the Biden administration to do whatever it takes to procure the necessary materials for battery production. Though the existing plan relies almost entirely on shipping them in from other countries, which is detrimental in terms of air pollution and offshores what could have been domestic jobs. On the upside, all the disagreeable aspects of mining operations are left safely beyond our borders.

From Reuters:

As Biden makes fighting climate change and competing with China centerpieces of his agenda, the administration is set to wrap up a 100-day review on Friday of gaps in supply chains in key areas, including electric vehicles (EV).

These gaps include the minerals used in EV batteries and consumer electronics. The administration is also looking for ways to reduce metal usage in new battery chemistries.

Reports from various government agencies will be submitted to the White House, a process Biden ordered in an executive order earlier this year. Parts of the reports could be released publicly as soon as next week.

Democrats are pushing aggressive climate goals to have a majority of U.S.-manufactured cars be electric by 2030 and every car on the road to be electric by 2040.

Securing enough cobalt, lithium and other raw materials to make EV batteries is a major obstacle, with domestic mines facing extensive regulatory hurdles and environmental opposition.

We want electric cars because they’re supposed to be better for the environment but cannot mine the necessary materials because it would be bad for the environment. And our solution is to just ship everything across the ocean which (and feel free to correct me if I am wrong) is likely not going to be all that great for the environment.

Kind of a Catch-22 but some have posited that this could all be offset by domestic battery recycling. It’s something that the White House is reportedly been considering rather seriously.

“When you look at the way the U.S. has approached the recycling opportunity, what’s very evident is we need to invest in that capacity, we need to take a more proactive approach,” an administration official told Reuters. “A big part of the lithium opportunity is really recycling, and being a global leader in recycling the lithium from existing batteries and driving that into these new batteries.”

But the issue is that we don’t actually know for certain that mass battery recycling is actually more economical than simply digging new stuff out of the ground. Researchers at Aalto University have investigated the environmental effects of various recycling processes for electric car batteries, deciding that more R&D was ultimately needed before anything could be assumed. Hydrometallurgical recycling seems the way to go but there would still be an abundance of emissions and water usage that might not scale well when applied to a landscape where EVs are the norm. There are similar issues with battery disposal and increasingly more studies asserting that EVs need to be driven for extended periods of time to offset the pollution created by the construction and scrapping of their batteries.

Back in 2014, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study examining EV pollution, attempting to account for every possible emission source from cradle to grave. While they could indeed outperform the average gas-powered automobile if driven until their batteries were basically incapable of holding a charge, EVs actually turned out to be worse for the environment when electricity was derived from energy grids that were heavily dependent upon coal.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has been working hard to address these concerns and will likely see additional support from the current administration. It’s also assumed that America will see a domestic recycling push similar to what’s been implemented in the European Union.

If implemented correctly, it could save the country from seeing the full 8 million tons of battery scrap the U.S. government has estimated by 2040. It’s also supposed to keep us more competitive with China (which is ironically dependent upon coal-fired power plants). But it often seems that battery production and EVs benefit the Asian nation by default. China already dominates global battery production and has begun installing recycling facilities in other countries. Ganfeng Lithium Co. announced plans to build one in Mexico last fall.

Unfortunately, none of the data points to this being sufficient in transitioning toward an exclusively electric society. Under the most idyllic projections, recycling can only handle a fraction of the materials we’ll need for mass EV production. Without some kind of borderline miraculous efficiency breakthrough (hence the heavy emphasis on R&D), the world will need to multiply its mining operations several times over to ensure there’s sufficient cobalt, nickel, and lithium over the next couple of decades.

The Biden administration’s report is due on Friday. Perhaps we’ll get an answer or two before everything predictably degrades into a handout for various energy concerns and other preferred enterprises.

[Image: Sergii Chernov/Shutterstock]

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35 Comments on “Recycling EV Batteries Might Soon Become Booming Domestic Industry...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Democrats are pushing aggressive climate goals to have a majority of U.S.-manufactured cars be electric by 2030 and every car on the road to be electric by 2040.”

    but

    “Securing enough cobalt, lithium and other raw materials to make EV batteries is a major obstacle, with domestic mines facing extensive regulatory hurdles and environmental opposition.””

    So, the beatings will continue until morale improves. Glad we cleared that up.

    “Without some kind of borderline miraculous efficiency breakthrough (hence the heavy emphasis on R&D), the world will need to multiply its mining operations several times over to ensure there’s sufficient cobalt, nickel, and lithium over the next couple of decades.”

    Which isn’t going to happen, so there is either some kind of battery breakthrough or more likely a shrunken industry where only Party members and cronies have private transportation.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “So, the beatings will continue until morale improves. Glad we cleared that up.”

      No. This is a list of problems to solve between where we are and where we need to be.

      Making lists of problems that you need to solve is how serious people make hard things happen.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        So since more cobalt, nickel, and lithium will be needed do you see fanatics backing down on their regulations, protesting, and resistance to more mining of those? I don’t. Hell for some of these people its all they do.

        A likely path to (somewhat) achieving the stated 2030 goal is larger EV market share in a *shrinking market* due to supply limitations and market demand for EVs. I would say this is the scenario which will play out, in fact it has already started.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “So since more cobalt, nickel, and lithium”

          Cobalt and nickel aren’t needed. Tesla is already shipping cars with batteries that don’t use nickel. I think they’ve eliminated cobalt as well. Not because of doing the right thing, but because it was economically motivated.

          https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/22/21451670/tesla-cobalt-free-cathodes-mining-battery-nickel-ev-cost

          https://electrek.co/2021/02/26/elon-musk-tesla-shifting-more-electric-cars-lfp-batteries-nickel-supply-concerns/

      • 0 avatar
        WisconsinIrishJames

        Serious people do list the problems and keep the end goals in minds.

        You either forgot or intentionally omitted that serious problem solvers also continually reassess and re-evaluate.

        They may have goals and dates for those goals, but they remain fluid and changeable depending on the progress and result being made in all aspects of the product or process development.

        I don’t see much of that in the 2035, 2040, etc deadlines for the banning of IC engines. Even a minimum public acknowledgment that such goal is fluid and will be reassessed would show a commitment to solving the problem vs political/ideology preening or power consolidation.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Without some kind of borderline miraculous efficiency breakthrough”

      That’s an exaggeration. Again, cobalt isn’t needed. It’s being eliminated from batteries. Currently, there are sodium-ion batteries that don’t use lithium, cobalt, or nickel in production that I believe have the gravimetric density of the original leaf batteries. They are making progress with them and solid-state versions should be good enough for EV applications. No miracles needed. They are definitely making progress.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Serious question @mcs because I honestly dont know and you seem to be in the industry, how do the batteries using Sodium do in a crash? I recall some violent reactions in High School Chemistry. Is there not enough to matter or is there some other factors at work to neutralize it. Or is it just something they’ll design into the vehicle?

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Obama/Biden killed Yucca Mountain that could have done far more to transition the US into green energy than any of this other nonsense. But the green idiots don’t like nuclear power.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      “But the green idiots don’t like nuclear power.”

      Wow, you really showed that strawman what-for!

      However, you’re a couple of decades out of date. It would be more fair to say that nuclear power is controversial within the environmental movement.

      In the current decade, those who are concerned about pollution (to the exclusion of climate) dislike nuclear power. Those who are concerned about climate (to the exclusion of pollution) tend to favor nuclear power.

      You’ll probably need a reference to believe this, so here’s a founder of Greenpeace who came out in favor of nuclear power:
      https://www.wired.com/2007/11/co-founder-of-greenpeace-envisions-a-nuclear-future/#:~:text=Patrick%20Moore%2C%20a%20co%2Dfounder%20of%20Greenpeace%20International%20turned%20nuclear,Clean%20and%20Safe%20Energy%20Coalition.

      As an engineer who’s concerned about both climate change and pollution, I’m cautiously in favor of nuclear power. We’ve had enough decades and enough nuclear disasters that, if we can apply those lessons to new nuclear power plant designs, nuclear power can be a good option. However, learning from our past is actually a pretty big if — especially in an era where the outgoing national leaders tried hard to turn back the clock in all of the wrong ways. All a nuclear power proponent needs to convince me that a particular plant is a good idea is to take me through some details to show how the lessons learned from previous disasters are incorporated into the plant design.

      Nuclear power definitely has some fans within the environmental and climate movements, but it is controversial.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I know Wikipedia is hard, but the 112th Congress ended federal funding on April 14, 2011 during the Obama Administration with the GAO stating:

      “The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons”

      Previously the Obama Administration attempted to close the facility despite doing so being a violation of federal law (par for the course from those clowns).

      “Starting in 2009, the Obama administration attempted to close the Yucca Mountain repository, despite current US law that designates Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository.”

      Senator Reid (D-NV) also strongly opposed the project, as did then Senator Kerry in 2004. The record shows the Dims for a long time tried to and then succeeded in shutting it down, so Crosley is correct in this case.

      “In August 2004, the repository became an election issue when Senator John Kerry said he would abandon the plans if elected”

      “The project was approved in 2002 by the 107th United States Congress, but the 112th ended federal funding for the site via amendment to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, passed on April 14, 2011 during the Obama Administration.[3] The project has encountered many difficulties and was highly contested by the public, the Western Shoshone peoples, and many politicians.[4] The project also faces strong state and regional opposition.[5] The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.[6]

      This leaves American utilities and the United States government, which currently disposes of its transuranic waste 2,150 feet (660 m) below the surface at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico,[7] without any designated long-term storage site for the high-level radioactive waste stored on site at various nuclear facilities around the country.

      Under President Barack Obama the Department of Energy (DOE) reviewed options other than Yucca Mountain for a high-level waste repository. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, established by the Secretary of Energy, released its final report in January 2012. It detailed an urgent need to find a site suitable for constructing a consolidated geological repository, stating that any future facility should be developed by a new independent organization with direct access to the Nuclear Waste Fund, which is not subject to political and financial control as the Cabinet-level DOE is.[8] But the site met with strong opposition in Nevada, including from then-Senate leader Harry Reid.”

      “Starting in 2009, the Obama administration attempted to close the Yucca Mountain repository, despite current US law that designates Yucca Mountain as the nation’s nuclear waste repository. The administration agency, DOE, began implementation of the President’s plan in May 2009. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission also went along with the administration’s closure plan. Various state and Congressional entities attempted to challenge the administration’s closure plans, by statute and in court. Most recently, in August 2013, a US Court of Appeals decision told the NRC and the Obama administration that they must either “approve or reject [DOE’s] application for [the] never-completed waste storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.” They cannot simply make plans for its closure in violation of US law.[91]”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

    • 0 avatar
      islander800

      Nuclear MUST be a part of the solution and one particular environmental scientist, James Hanson (remember him? – he’s the NASA scientist that raised the alarm and first made the media and public aware of “anthropomorphic global warming” at the end of the 1980s) advocates for modern breeder nuclear reactors which actually would be fueled by the waste fuel of current reactors. He readily admits that wind, solar and other renewables like hydro, cannot fill the need alone if we are to stop greenhouse CO2 emissions. The beauty of modern breeders is they are designed to shut themselves down naturally if problems arise and there’s a few hundred years of “fuel” sitting around in nuclear plant cooling ponds globally. Disposal problem solved too. But…the challenge will be getting buy-in from the public and legislators…

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        As I said, nuclear power is controversial within the environmental movement.

        Nuclear Power has its fans and its detractors within the movement.

        This is a healthy tension in my opinion.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    well, transportation will cost more. Elections have consequences. If you cant swing a private vehicle, there is always the bus. The electorate has spoken.

  • avatar
    2manycars

    I don’t care what “Democrats” (Communists) want. I will never buy an electric car.

    • 0 avatar
      Charliej

      Then you will do without a car. Electric cars are coming and soon. They will be cheaper than ICE cars in just a few years. Nickel and cobalt are no longer needed in batteries and lithium is available in seawater as a byproduct of removing the salt to make fresh water. It is less expensive than mined lithium. Electric cars are coming, soon and cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Yeah, Joe Biden is so communist, he wants to lower the corporate tax rate.

      If you managed to pop your head out of your Fox News, you might see that the Democrats are basically the same as every other center-left party in the world, except that (unlike in parliamentary systems, where there is usually a Socialist or Green party) the far left has nowhere else to go.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I dont think thats true @Dal. He wants to set a floor of 15 percent within the G7 nations. Our corporate tax rate is already well over that and if I am not mistaken he wants to raise it from there.

        If they do this they also need a plan to deal with the countries that dont adopt the 15 percent. I dont know what China’s is for example, but they have had no interset in joining.

        But no, in no way shape or form has Joe Biden advocated for lowering the corporate tax rate in the US.

  • avatar
    mcs

    “Securing enough cobalt, lithium and other raw materials to make EV batteries is a major obstacle,”

    Cobalt isn’t needed. Nickel isn’t needed either. Both are being eliminated because of cost.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      This is the way. I just dont want to see is replace the dependance on the middle east that we have taken so long to mostly shake replaced with dependance on China.

      I feel like a 300ish mile range with 80 percent available in 30 minutes that costs the same as an ICE vehicle will sell far more EVs than any subsidy.

      It may be able to cost a little more even so long as the payment comes out the same even if there is an extra year or 2 in there since that is how most people buy anyway.

      I hope you are right in your assessment. Can’t wait to watch the middle east blow up again and instead of sending another generation of Soldier over for a decade plus we shrug our collective shoulders and watch a generation of Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army deal with it.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Batteries have to get beyond using lithium which is expensive, heavy, and volatile. The answer could be in the development of solid state batteries. Not so much against EVs but the battery technology, the charging infrastructure, and power grid all need to improve and expand. Just limiting our power generating to wind and solar are not enough to supply all our power needs especially if the number of EVs expands. Nuclear energy should be a major source of electrical generation. We still should use natural gas and use hydro where it is feasible. I agree about eventually getting away from coal all together because it is dirty and not as efficient as natural gas or nuclear.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Here’s a good article on Sodium-ion. With current sodium-ion technology, a Model 3 60 kWh battery would weigh 944 lbs. They think they can easily get that to a density that would bring that down to

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/batteries-storage/sodium-ion-batteries-poised-to-pick-off-large-scale-lithium-applications 661 lbs. Solid-state should push the weight down further. But, I do think the 661 lbs would be fine for a supercheap battery.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      What’s the weight of the batteries right now in a Model 3?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “What’s the weight of the batteries right now in a Model 3?”

        There are two numbers, pack weight and cell weight. I’ve been using cell weight because that’s what I normally work with and have somewhat accurate numbers. I should be quoting pack weights, but I don’t have those without some digging.

        Let’s assume the 2021 Model 3 LR 82 kWh pack and not 60 kWh I was talking about earlier. Assume the current 2170 cells. Using the best numbers I have for their 2170 cells I’d put the weight of the cells only at 700 lbs. That’s without the pack hardware that I don’t have reliable numbers for. The new 4680 cells alone for an 82 kWh pack should bring the weight down to 475.73 lbs. The pack should be lighter for 4680’s since the cells are structural. The 4680 cells for an 82kWh battery are only about 85 lbs more in weight than an LS V8. Add in the transmission and the cells might be lighter. Progess.

        The battery numbers I’d really like to see are for Toyota’s solid-state battery. Those numbers are going to be interesting.

        Another 4680 weight factor to consider is that since the cells and pack are lighter, less kWh will be needed for a given range and that will effectively further lighten the battery since you can use a smaller battery with less cells.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Speaking of metals in cars, what about the rhodium, palladium, and platinum in catalytic converters. Got news for you, it’s not picked from an organic garden somewhere.

  • avatar

    Thus spoke Zarathustra. ICE is dead. But seriously don’t take what politicians say, especially Demons, seriously. By now we should have moon bases and free colleges according to politicians.

    Okay, that’s the plan – our woke rulers and selected (blue) elite will ride in EVs by 2030. That is what Bidon says. The rest will be poor enough to afford basic artificial food (no beef, no meat) and ride bicycles – they will not be allowed to travel farther than 10 km away from their official registration address in vaccination passport. According to conspiracy theories.

    If you do not like that there always is the second amendment. You have the right to retire tyrant if he or she annoys you, according to constitution

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    We conjure up the billions to give the ultra-wealthy large tax breaks, but TTAC doesn’t complain about that.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Related thoughts:

    a) I was sitting on my butt at home last week and realized it has been a long long time since I replaced any light bulbs at my house (because LED’s have improved a lot, and are dramatically better than the compact fluorescent phase we went through).

    b) Recycled some fairly ancient rechargeable batteries at Home Depot the other day, completely painlessly [to me].

    c) Took delivery of my new rechargeable push mower last week. Wider cut [25″] than my old [22″] gas push mower (new electric uses two smallish blades side-by-side), more torque (mowed the grass wet because I was leaving town, this would have been an issue with my 6-horsepower gas push mower), uses two 4 Ah (60-volt) batteries sequentially and the dual charger can charge one battery (in 40 minutes) while I continue to mow with the other (if I needed to which I usually shouldn’t). [The single-handle 2-second height adjustment gives me hope for modern engineering.] The new mower holds roughly $0.06 worth of electricity at a time; call it less than a dime with charging losses. (The technical term for how much you can mow with ten cents worth of gasoline in either of my gas mowers is Not Much.) Flip the mower deck up to the against-the-wall storage position and hose off the bottom, and you get *no* Exxon Valdez-style petroleum runoff. Blissfully quiet and vibration-free compared to ICE. Self-propelled function is Plenty Quick (this was never my experience with self-propelled gas push mowers).

    d) Coincidentally, had my first Mustang Mach-E sighting in the neighborhood last week.

    TL;DR: The Future is not all bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I want to get an electric riding mower, but my 1985 Deere refuses to die so maybe one day. It is the last of my gas yard tools though and I concur with the advantages of electric in this arena.

      “Coincidentally, had my first Mustang Mach-E sighting in the neighborhood last week.

      TL;DR: The Future is not all bad.”

      You OK? This doesnt sound like your normal assessment of Ford’s offerings lol.

    • 0 avatar

      All lights in my house are LEDs. Couple of month ago I had to replace LED driver ($30 from Digikey.com) and one of LEDs (Cree Inc, $9 from Digikey) in 4-LED bar in my bathroom. Add here thermopad for $7 from Amazon so in total I spent $46 to repair LED bar and that’s only cost of parts since I am engineer and can do it myself. Most people would also pay labor cost – now we are talking about hundreds of dollars. I bought LED bar for $300 new from LampPlus. Now compare it with how much it would cost you to replace incandescent light bulb – probably $1.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        OK … but you could have bought a 4-pack of GE Reveal bulbs for $15 and put them in an existing fixture. So your costs are not necessarily representative of LED technology as a whole.

  • avatar
    syntax4

    Currently leasing a 2019 Maxima SV. Mileage: 16,000. Drove less than expected due to pandemic and other factors.

    Took note of the 2020 Maxima rental at 40,000 miles. Something to consider if I decide to purchase.

    Current experience with this car: no orange peel or other body issues including the seats. Interior is snug but not oppressive. If I take off the front wheel and lower the seat post, I can get a full sized road bike in the back seat. Does take a little work to do so. Electronics are flawless so far. While the car may not handle like a 4DSC, I find it to be pretty agile. 300 HP engine provides enough pull to feel safe on the highway. The car was probably overpriced.

    While Nissan may not make the Maxima like it used to, my main criticism of the reviewer is that after inspecting one Maxima from a rental company, he concludes Nissan definitely does not care about the Maxima. Sounds like a pretty sweeping statement. Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at reliability data from thousands that have been sold, say from 2018 forward before reaching this conclusion?

  • avatar

    I took my driver’s test in a manual Toyota Corolla, instead of mom’s huge Personal Luxury Pontiac Grand Prix…back in the day, you had a 3 speed slushbox, or a 4 speed manual. The slushbox had a primitive hydraulic computer, and any decent driver could out shift it. I had a few years of trail bikes so to shift was already programmed into my brain.

    Today, I can say the 9 speed in my Daily is faster than I am, is always in the right gear, has three shift patterns, and from rolling through town to the front straight at Pocono, never bobbles.

    I’ve two millennials…one wanted a stick specifically (and bluetooth for music !), the other is fighting it, and I may just give up because I”m teaching him the equivalent of learning how to modulate spark advance.plus..the EV world won’t have a transmission as we know it.

    Since we are on the topic, we’ll know EV have gone truly mainstream when all those outdoor electric outlets on buildings and in public places get locks on the covers…..

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    You will own nothing – and you will be happy. You are so commanded.

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