Lithium-ion batteries are used in cell phones, computers, power tools, toys, appliances, electrical vehicles and storage systems. If they are not properly disposed of at the end of their life, they can cause harm to the environment or even catch fire.
Recycling lithium batteries offers a solution to the problem and the materials can be recovered and re-used to make new batteries. This can be accomplished time and again so the material never has to be mined from the Earth again. At some point, mining Lithium will no longer be necessary so long as the products are continually recycled.
Battery metals such as Lithium, Cobalt and Graphite are critical raw materials and are strategically important to the United States as there is a high risk of supply disruptions from other Countries. As we strive for energy independence, recycling lithium batteries is a high priority for the safety of our supply chain.
If a battery or electronic device is disposed of in the trash or placed in a municipal recycling bin with other materials, it could be damaged or crushed in transport or within processing and sorting equipment which could create a fire hazard. Therefore, all lithium-ion batteries should be recycled at a certified recycler that accepts batteries rather than discarded in the trash.
A fire broke out last June just outside of Chicago in an empty paper mill. Firefighters discovered that the warehouse contained 100 tons of lithium batteries. Nearby residents were evacuated for air-quality issues and it took nearly a week to put out the fire. Water and foam could not be used as they would have accelerated the fires and caused further environmental damage. Eventually, Portland cement was used to smother the fire. The EPA found 25 tons of damaged, and defective lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium batteries are required to operate electric vehicles, renewable energy projects and anything mobile like cell phones and power tools. President Biden has encouraged industry to produce electric fleets and so far all major automakers have fallen in line and have announced their goals to meet internal deadlines. Half of all new cars and trucks will be electric in 15 years and each vehicle will contain at least 150 pounds of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese. Production of the required metals will increase by 5 to 10x in the next ten years.
Child Labor Issues
Large amounts of water and energy are required to mine lithium and 70 percent of the global supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to 30 percent of mining operations are very small and routinely ignore child safety standards within their mining operations.
China heavily subsidizes their EV sector and the concerns for our national security are inherently at risk as our commercial and national defense markets heavily rely on battery technology. Domestic production and reliable supply chains is crucial as China controls over 70 percent of the global lithium supply. Afghanistan is another Country rich in Lithium but they have been taken over by the Taliban.
Making our supply of the battery metals from domestic and local sources are important to our national security as we will be less reliant on other Countries to supply our needs. Liberals and Conservatives fully agree on this issue and as we move forward with the adoption of EV, local sourcing becomes imperative.
Mining on Thacker Pass will most likely move forward even though some environmentalists have raised concerns. The production of EVs over the next 10 years will require it. As those models come to the scrap piles is when recycling will truly shine. Recovering the materials and placing them back into the economy means no more mining at some point in time.
This circular economy by using battery metals over and over again is crucial to our energy independence. It will also help us reach our greenhouse gas emission goals especially if EV users also place rooftop solar systems on their homes to self-produce the power from the sun which is a renewable source of energy.