Affordable lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized the world by powering our mobile electronics and with the potential of electric vehicles, demand for batteries is expected to rapidly grow. As we look to the opportunity of domestic battery manufacturing as this market grows, one challenge for the United States is that the United States is not a large producer of minerals such as lithium, manganese, cobalt, or graphite—all important components of today’s lithium-ion batteries.
The United States is import-reliant (imports are greater than 50 percent of annual consumption) for 31 of the 35 minerals designated as critical by the Department of the Interior. For 14 critical minerals, The U.S. has no domestic production and relies completely on imports.
America’s lack of secure critical minerals supply chains is a concern for the administration. This is why President Trump issued Executive Order 13817, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”
DOE has an important role to play to help ensure a reliable supply of critical minerals, especially those used in battery manufacturing. One example of the critical minerals work the sponsored by EERE, in the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), an Energy Innovation Hub funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Office at $25 million per year, pursues R&D across the critical mineral supply chain, from separations and processing to reuse and recycling. CMI is a public-private partnership that is led by Ames National Laboratory and includes partners from other national laboratories (partners with Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory), 13 U.S. corporations, and six universities.
Since its inception in 2013, CMI has issued 120 invention disclosures, filed 56 patent applications, received 10 patents, and licensed 8 technologies to U.S. companies. This includes 3D printing of rare-earth magnets to reduce manufacturing wastes, a cerium-aluminum alloy for use in lightweight automobiles and aircraft, and membrane solvent extraction for rare-earth separations.
Another example of efforts by DOE to improve access to critical minerals is the establishment of the ReCell Lithium Battery Recycling R&D Center earlier this year. The ReCell Center is focused on cost-effective recycling processes to recover lithium battery critical materials and is led by Argonne National Laboratory, along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and three universities. The work is focused on four research areas: design for recycling, recovery of other materials, direct recycling or cathode-to-cathode recovery, and reintroduction of recycled materials.
The goal of the ReCell Center is to develop technologies to profitably capture 90 percent of all lithium based battery technologies in the United States and recover 90 percent of the key materials from the collected batteries.
To achieve these goals and improve our access to these critical materials, we’ll need to draw on our American innovation. On September 25, we announced the winners of the Phase 1 Battery Recycling Challenge, part of the American Made Grand Challenges program. The prize aims to reclaim and recycle critical materials from lithium-based battery technology. For a total of $1 million in prizes, these projects focus on cost-effective recycling processes to recover as much economic value as possible from spent lithium-ion batteries.
Over the past 10 years, DOE-funded research has helped reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries by 80 percent, lowering the cost of electric vehicle battery packs to $185/kWh. While battery materials recycling is improving, battery technology cost and performance needs to be improved. Near-term opportunities exist to develop innovative technologies that have the potential to significantly reduce battery cost and help achieve the operational performance needed for EVs to achieve cost competitiveness with gasoline vehicles.
Given the importance of domestic manufacturing, DOE is also investigating the manufacturing improvements necessary to enable more battery manufacturing in the United States. With commercial lithium-ion technology, the goal is to maximize active anode and cathode material to increase the overall energy density of the cells.
For next-generation batteries, DOE is investigating manufacturing improvements to enable solid state electrolytes. Solid electrolyte materials are non-flammable, and they allow more robust cell operation and the integration of metal-based anodes needed to achieve DOE’s aggressive cost, energy density, and cycle life targets. DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office recently announced $15 million for 15 new awards to develop materials for solid state materials, diagnostic and modeling tools to enable solid state batteries.
Extensive battery research and development is one example of how DOE-funded research is helping address the challenge of battery manufacturing and critical minerals. To continue driving down costs for consumers and businesses, we must ensure that the United States has a sustainable supply chain of materials and the Department of Energy will continue to work to work at all stages of the supply to improve access to cutting-edge energy technologies for all Americans.
 U.S. Geological Survey, “Mineral Commodity Summaries 2018,” 2018, https://doi.org/10.3133/70194932