Recycling could help fill battery demand

Industry

Concerns are growing over the auto industry’s reliance on an overseas supply chain for the raw materials needed to make the lithium ion batteries powering America’s electric transportation future.

Clarios, a longtime battery supplier, says policymakers and industry executives should not overlook a homegrown solution.

Recycling could provide the materials needed to fill a substantial portion of expected battery demand. The company is one of seven to receive recent funding from an ongoing Department of Energy competition designed to spur recycling-related initiatives.

“There are issues with batteries at the end of their life causing harm in landfills, regardless of chemistry, and there’s issues upstream with the realization these materials may be critical or rare-earth materials that come from unstable regions,” Adam Muellerweiss, chief sustainability officer at Clarios, told Automotive News. “There’s a real appetite for understanding how those critical minerals can be recovered or repurposed.”

A report issued last week from global tech firm ABB said battery demand will outstrip production capacity six times over by 2030 and that industry plans for 80 new battery factories are insufficient to meet the need. At the same time, there’s growing U.S. consternation over where the necessary raw materials are unearthed and where the industrial capacity to produce batteries is currently located.

In February, President Joe Biden ordered a review of the country’s supply chains that will, among other items, “identify risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries.”

A number of companies have sprung up with the intention of recycling specific types of batteries or specific components. What may differentiate Clarios, which spun out from Johnson Controls in 2019, is a century of making batteries for automotive purposes. The company has invested in recycling automotive lead-acid batteries for more than 30 years and says up to 99 percent of lead-acid battery materials can be recovered and returned to the marketplace.

Regardless of battery chemistry, Muellerweiss says that sort of experience has given Clarios a keen understanding of the opportunities and complexities involved in recycling battery materials. While recycling is often thought of at the end of the life cycle, he says it should be baked into battery designs.

“You can have a company make changes on chemistry that have this marginal improvement in performance but pose recycling problems,” he said. “So those are the kinds of lessons we’re looking at with a potpourri of chemistries. You have to look at, ‘What’s the right chemistry for applications across the life cycle?’ ”

In other developments, a startup developing solid-state battery technology has been working with a team of prominent auto industry executives to help it finds its footing.

After years of quiet, behind-the-scenes work, Factorial Energy, of Boston, was spun into its own company this year. It made its first public pronouncements last week. Foremost among them: It named Joe Taylor, former CEO of Panasonic Corp. of North America, as its executive chairman.

A number of other automotive veterans are filling key roles.

Former Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche is joining Factorial’s advisory board. Ex-Ford CEO Mark Fields and Harry Wilson, former senior adviser to the Obama administration’s Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, are among investors.

The allure of solid-state batteries is strong in the industry. They could be a springboard to longer ranges, faster charging time and enhanced safety.

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