News that the United States would like to reduce its dependence on imported supplies of critical resources broke in early January of 2019. Resources that fall into this category include cobalt and lithium, both of which are heavily used for batteries. As a result, the government has agreed to open a Battery Recycling Resource & Development (R&D) Center.

Currently, the United States is highly dependent on outside sources for materials like cobalt and lithium, with a large percentage of our supply coming from countries where energy security risk factors are high. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, recently declared cobalt a “strategic commodity” and raised the royalty rates for mining companies intent upon collecting it.

The Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt at this time, while lithium is typically produced in Argentina, Chile, and Australia.

The United States aims to improve both energy security and national security by finding innovative ways to utilize the resources already found in discarded batteries. Unfortunately, many of these used products never reach a proper recycling center, and the critical resource within them is wasted.

According to an article citing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the center will receive $15 million in U.S. investments to aid in its attempts to recover lithium battery materials in a cost-effective manner. The goal is to find the right technology that will allow for the recycling and reuse of 90% of the battery technology in a way that is profitable for the United States.

At this point in time, less than 5% of battery technologies found in electronics, transportation, energy storage, and defense applications are recycled properly.

To compound efforts, the Department of Energy has also launched a Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling competition and prize. The reward, a cool $5.5 million, will go to participants that have come up with a viable solution for the collection, storage, and transportation of used lithium-ion batteries and battery technologies meant for recycling.

The new Battery Recycling Resource & Development Center will be run by the Argonne National Laboratory with help from both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.