DOE Establishes Battery Recycling R&D Center and Prize, Citing Security

battery recycling
(Photo: A deserted tunnel for cobalt ore in the Congo. Credit: Fairphone, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Department of Energy is establishing a new battery recycling R&D center along with a prize for entrepreneurs. Energy Secretary Rick Perry cited reliance on foreign sources for lithium and cobalt as the reason for the announcement.

A new Lithium Battery R&D Recycling Center, made possible through a $15 million investment, will be led by Argonne National Laboratory along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and focus on cost-effective recycling processes to recover lithium battery materials.

In addition, the Battery Recycling Prize will award cash prizes totaling $5.5 million to contestants in three phases. The goal is encouraging American entrepreneurs to find new solutions for collecting, storing, and transporting discarded lithium-ion batteries for recycling.

Cobalt and lithium are critical elements for lithium-based batteries, the DOE noted. “America’s dependence on foreign sources of critical materials undermines our energy security and national security,” Perry said.

Both the recycling prize and the R&D center aim to develop technologies that profitably capture 90% of all lithium based battery technologies in the United States. Lithium-ion batteries are currently collected and recycled at a rate of less than 5%, according to the DOE.

Prices on cobalt and lithium have spiked in recent years as global demand for batteries skyrockets, the Houston Chronicle’s James Osborne reported.

“With new production coming online in South America, Africa, and Australia this year, prices are expected to decrease in the short term,” he wrote, citing information from MetalBulletin.com. “But as China moves to convert more of its vehicle fleet from gasoline to electric engines in the years ahead, the price for cobalt and lithium could be volatile.”

As the longest US government shutdown in history continues, the DOE remains open, having previously received budget approval through September 30, 2019. Earlier this month, the agency’s Office of Fossil Energy announced $88 million in federal funding for oil and natural gas recovery research.

“We know we have massive unconventional oil and gas plays across the US, but there are still challenges when it comes to characterizing them and improving resource recovery efficiency,” DOE Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg said at the time.

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