The growth of electric vehicles, battery storage systems and renewable energy technologies is supercharging demand for critical minerals, including lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and graphite. These minerals are used to create battery cells and are crucial to advance a secure and resilient energy future.
Numerous commercial and consumer devices use batteries, and the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is only going to foster more battery production and consumption. As demand for batteries and critical raw materials grows, the need for battery recycling options will compound. Transforming the automotive transportation system will require designing and building new supply chains to support onshoring battery production and recycling efforts. According to the International Energy Agency, demand for critical minerals utilized in grid storage and electric vehicles is expected to grow 30 times by 2040.
To support innovation in battery recycling and reuse industries, the federal government is providing $74 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for research and development at companies and universities across the U.S. Additionally, the Department of Energy awarded $2.8 billion to 20 companies that will provide domestic production of batteries for electric vehicles. Similar measures for consumers include tax credits for electric vehicles ranging from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on battery capacity, critical mineral sourcing and requirements related to battery components.
The funding provided by the federal government is intended to foster a domestic battery production and recycling system, and facilities producing and recycling batteries will need to expand accordingly. Some important considerations before building or retrofitting a facility for battery recycling and production include supply chain logistics, changes in battery technology, fire safety and wastewater treatment.
The Vital Role of Feedstock
As the need for battery recycling and production companies grows, supply chains will need to be established to capitalize on growing feedstock. Building battery recycling facilities near large-scale battery storage sites that support renewable power or near production facilities for batteries could be beneficial. This can reduce transportation costs when sending end-of-life batteries or scraps from battery production sites to a recycling facility. Also, such recycling facilities could be built near auto dealers and manufacturers, which will need to recycle batteries.
Fire Protection at Battery Recycling Facilities
Owners and operators of battery recycling and production facilities should consider general factors, such as permitting. Specifically, battery recycling and production facilities are susceptible to fire hazards.
The components that are used to build a battery are often compact, lightweight and fragile. If such components are cracked or broken, a spark can lead to a fire. Also, rising temperatures within the battery can kick off a process known as thermal runaway during which the heat produced inside the battery surpasses the amount that can be dissipated. This reaction can result in battery failure or a fire. Owners and operators of battery recycling facilities can maintain a safe work environment through proper planning and effective risk management strategies.
Wastewater Treatment Solutions
Wastewater treatment system designs deserve proper consideration and evaluation, especially at recycling facilities that use hydrometallurgical processes. During hydrometallurgical processing, mineral acids dissolve the active material, including the cathode and anodes, found in lithium-ion batteries. Metal separation is conducted through solvent extraction, ion exchange and precipitation. To mitigate contamination concerns, the water used to dissolve and separate materials during the recycling process needs to be treated. The materials used in battery production and recycling are not commonly processed in wastewater treatment. By addressing the unique concerns of wastewater produced during battery recycling, owners and operators can maintain regulatory compliance and improve environmental safety.
The lithium-ion battery recycling industry in the U.S. has potential to expand in the coming decades. Similarly, battery production isn’t new, but the market has growth potential dependent on EV adoption and production. It’s estimated that when lithium-ion batteries are recycled, approximately 95% of components can be used to create new batteries or in other industrial uses. For owners and operators of these facilities, addressing supply chains, fire protection and wastewater treatment will help to establish and maintain operations in this industry for years to come.
The Inflation Reduction Act uses the U.S. tax code to encourage steps that will reduce CO2 emissions. Energy producers can look beyond typical projects to gain the most benefits available from tax credits and incentives, while also reducing CO2 emissions.