October 20, 2022
Original interview published via Vox
Right now, the last stop in the US for many of the giant lithium batteries that power electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is a plant in a town near Phoenix, Arizona.
There, the Toronto-based company Li-Cycle breaks the batteries down into “black mass” — a dark, shredded mess of copper, cobalt, nickel, and lithium that without further processing is as useful as shiny dirt. That is, until most of it is shipped to factories in other countries to separate it into the valuable raw materials that both auto and electronics manufacturers need to build new batteries.
Soon all this will change as a new industry rises to meet the growing demand for EVs by recycling their parts in the US. Li-Cycle is one of the handful of companies in this space chasing new federal incentives for recycling. And once the company opens a new factory in Rochester, New York, next year, they’ll be capable of processing their black mass back into the raw materials automakers covet.
Recycling is often an overlooked but critical piece of a clean energy future. To address climate change, we’ll need to replace the fuels that run our homes, buildings, and vehicles with electricity powered by clean energy. Nowhere is this more important than in transportation, the US’s most polluting sector. The challenge is that each vehicle needs its own battery, complete with copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese, graphite, and lithium. And because supplies of these materials are limited, it’s not at all clear how auto manufacturers will get their hands on enough for their batteries.
Part of the answer will depend on how countries handle their old EV batteries. By the end of the decade, close to 26 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the road domestically. After 2030, the Biden administration aims for half of all new car sales to be electric.
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