Efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to Enhance Energy Security
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Efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to Enhance Energy Security

By Energy CIO Insights | Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy is starting a battery recycling research and development (R&D) center, aiming to reduce its reliance on an external supply of critical minerals such as cobalt and lithium as America’s dependence on foreign sources of essential materials undermines the energy security and national security.

The goal of the Department of Energy is to develop technologies to profitably capture 90 percent of all lithium-based battery in the U.S, for which they launched a Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize. These lithium-ion batteries are collected and recycled at a rate of less than five percent.

The recycling contest will confer cash prizes of a total of $5.5 million to contestants, and those can find the creative solutions to collecting, storing, and transporting of the discarded lithium-ion batteries for recycling.

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The department has decided to invest a sum of $15 million in a Lithium Battery R&D Recycling Center, and it will be a cost-effective recycling process to recover lithium battery materials. It will help the U.S. to grow globally in the competitive recycling industry. This center will be point by Argonne National Laboratory with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which will be closed-loop recycling for lithium-ion batteries.

The R&D center and the prize will be able to reclaim and recycle critical materials, like cobalt and lithium from lithium-based battery technology used in consumer electronics, energy storage, defense, and transportation applications. Modeling and analysis tools are generated and used for helping a direct an efficient path of R&D and validating the work performed within the center. However, critical materials such as lithium and cobalt are costly and dependent on foreign sources for production.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces more than 60 percent of cobalt globally and is the world’s highest producer of cobalt and mines. Africa recently declared the mineral a “strategic” commodity and also raised royalty rates for mining companies. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity, the world’s largest producers of lithium are Australia, Chile, and Argentina.

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