In its second hearing in a week focused on U.S. shortfalls of critical minerals needed to propel the domestic clean energy transformation, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 7 heard from industry executives that the country needs a multi-faceted approach to meet exponential demand for battery production—including component recycling, research and development, tax credits and investment in manufacturing.

"We’re headed toward a cliff edge," said Duncan Wood, a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  "There are not enough materials being produced.”

The committee hearing followed one on March 31 that pointed out efforts to boost US-based critical mineral mining and processing, including a presidential order to invoke the Defense Production Act to add federal incentives.

The technology to recycle and refine materials from old batteries is already available, but the U.S. needs to build battery cell manufacturing capability, said J.B. Straubel, CEO of Redwood Materials and a former Tesla executive. “The two most critical and expensive components of lithium-ion batteries, the cathode and the anode, are produced via a convoluted supply chain based almost entirely in Asia,” he told the committee.

Redwood recovers, on average, 95% of the metals from batteries, such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper, and uses them to remanufacture anode and cathode components domestically that can be supplied to U.S. battery cell manufacturers, Straubel said.

The company is developing a fully closed-loop, domestic component supply chain that involves collecting and recycling end-of-life lithium-ion batteries from consumer devices, electric vehicles and energy storage systems, refining their minerals and re-manufacturing them into battery materials that can go directly to U.S. battery manufacturers.

Redwood receives about 6 GWh end-of-life lithium-ion batteries annually, which equates to about 60,000-80,000 electric vehicles or 20,000 metric tons of material every year for recycling, according to Straubel.

“End-of-life batteries available for recycling will skyrocket in coming years as both consumer devices continue to increase and as the first wave of electric vehicles begin to retire,” he said.

The U.S. needs to quickly ramp up a domestic battery materials supply chain and use the highest possible proportion of local recycled and raw materials to meet the country’s electrification and clean energy goals, Straubel said.

Globally, demand for lithium-ion batteries is projected to grow by more than 500% to meet rapid electrification of transportation and the increased need to store intermittent renewable energy. The US needs an end-to-end lithium-ion battery supply chain, he said.

Redwood also is focused on scaling production of cathode active material and copper foil, which make up nearly 65% of the cost of a battery because of the critical minerals they require. The firm announced last year that it intends to build by 2025 an estimated $1-billion processing plant at a site it did not name to expand its processing capacity.

“Today, the US does not manufacture these components domestically. Integrated lithium-ion battery recycling and manufacturing of cathode active materials and battery copper foils in the U.S. is critical to reduce the costs of lithium-ion batteries,” he said.

But Joseph Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, testified.that while recycling can contribute about 10% to meet critical mineral demand, innovation is needed to drive down the amount of materials needed.

Participants at an April 1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference noted successes with use of sodium-ion batteries, in performance, safety and cost-savings, said a report in Utility Dive. Also promising is metal-air technology, which appears to offer twice the battery life of lithium-ion batteries, researchers said. Others are experimenting with recycling EV batteries that lack vehicle capacity for energy storage use.