I had the honor of testifying on July 17 before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the subject of lithium-ion battery recycling in the United States.  The Senate’s interest in the topic is timely, given NAATBatt’s just ended workshop on the same subject in Buffalo, New York.  A copy of my oral testimony is reproduced below.  The longer and more detailed written version of my testimony can be seen by clicking here:

Oral Remarks

Good morning Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Carper, and members of the Committee.  My name is James Greenberger.  I am the Executive Director of NAATBatt International, a trade association of about 120 corporations and research institutions working to promote advanced battery technology and the industries it will power in North America.

 The subject of my testimony is the important role that recycling of lithium-ion batteries can play in developing new industry and supporting reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Advanced battery technology will be one of the most important technologies of the 21st Century.  Lithium-ion battery chemistry, which was invented in the United States, represents the most powerful new battery technology widely used in commerce today.  Lithium-ion batteries not only power but enable electric vehicles, wearable and implantable medical devices, mobile robotics, consumer electronic devices, drones, the Internet of Things, high energy weapons and a variety of other, new electric devices.

Several new technologies will shape human society in the 21st Century.  Advanced battery technology will be but one of them.  But advanced battery technology is unique in that it will enable many of those other technologies.  Nations wanting leadership in those technologies will need a vibrant advanced battery industry within their borders.

For the United States to have a vibrant lithium-ion battery industry, it needs to ensure that U.S.-based manufactures have access to the energy materials and compounds needed to manufacture batteries.  Few of those energy materials, such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, are found in great quantities in the United States and almost none of the chemicals into which those energy materials must be processed to make batteries are manufactured here.

Recycling lithium-ion batteries used in the United States offers a partial solution to this supply chain problem.  Recycling batteries can create a strategic reserve of battery materials, which can provide supply and some assurance of price stability to domestic manufacturers.  Building a strong lithium-ion industry in the United States is critically important.  Few other industries have the potential to create more jobs, both upstream and downstream of their immediate products, than advanced battery manufacturing.  As we have long pointed out at NAATBatt:  He who makes the batteries will one day make the cars. 

Recycling high voltage lithium-ion batteries is also important for the environment and for public safety.  Making lithium-ion battery cathode materials from recycled batteries can use as little as 18% as much energy, 23% as much water, and produce only 9% as much SOx emissions as producing those compounds from virgin materials.

Recycling high voltage lithium-ion batteries at the end of their useful lives also removes them from potential contact with incautious adults and curious children.  A high voltage battery no longer powerful enough to power a car is still powerful enough to electrocute a human being.  Recycling lithium-ion batteries is a matter of public safety as well as good environmental stewardship.

But recycling lithium-ion batteries in the United States has a major problem:  It is impossible using current recycling technology to make money from recycling most lithium-ion batteries.  The costs of shipping, storing and recycling those batteries is simply greater than the revenues to be made from selling the recycled materials.  As a consequence fewer than 5% of lithium-ion batteries reaching the end of useful life are recycled in the United States today.

New recycling technologies, such as the direct recycling technology being developed at the Department of Energy’s new ReCell Center, may in time change this dynamic.  But unless and until it does, the only way to recycle lithium-ion batteries will be to require consumers, directly or indirectly, to pay for the costs of recycling.

Electric vehicles and stationary energy storage of renewably generated electricity are powerful tools in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.  Imposing recycling costs on consumers, on top of the still expensive cost of lithium-ion batteries, will inevitably impact market demand and greenhouse gas mitigation efforts.  It is essential that recycling costs be kept as low as possible.

I would respectfully recommend that the Committee consider four actions to protect U.S. economic competitiveness and greenhouse gas reduction efforts:

First, ensure that any program requiring the recycling of high voltage lithium-ion batteries be implemented on a consistent, nationwide basis.

Second, encourage environmental and transportation regulations that differentiate between sophisticated, high voltage lithium-ion batteries of the kind used in electric vehicles and the smaller, far less consistent lithium-ion batteries used in consumer devices.

Third, limit the export of used lithium-ion batteries in order to ensure a steady supply of battery materials to U.S. manufacturers; and

Fourth, fund more research into next generation technologies that may make recycling lithium-ion batteries safer, cheaper and, in time, hopefully, profitable.

Thank you for your attention.