Kelly Speakes-Backman
Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
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Voltaic Pile (1800)
Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) invented the first constant-current battery, with moistened pieces of felt between alternating discs of nickel and zinc. (Credit: Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons)

National Battery Day is always a cause for celebration here at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). While we don’t know when human beings officially started using this remarkable tool, we do know that it has been an engine of progress for centuries—and it is certain to play a vital role in the 21st-century transition to a clean-energy economy. 

For decades, the U.S. Department of Energy has helped refine and expand the use of advanced battery technologies, and innovations in this field have touched the lives of every person in America. From the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power your laptop and mobile phone, to the electric vehicle batteries that have made electric cars more affordable than ever, advanced batteries are integral to our modern way of life. 

If you’re looking for a reason to champion the use of battery technologies today, here are some quick facts about EERE’s work on advanced batteries. 

Powering the electric-vehicle revolution 

EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) focuses on reducing the cost, volume, and weight of batteries, while simultaneously improving their performance and durability. There are several dimensions to this work: performing exploratory research on the materials and electrochemical interactions associated with advanced batteries, developing and testing new battery materials, experimenting with new battery cells and modules, and more.  

VTO-supported research led to the development of the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in nearly all first-generation hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). VTO research also helped develop the lithium-ion battery technology used in the Chevrolet Volt, the first commercially available plug-in electric vehicle (PEV). 

Advances in battery technology have huge implications for America’s transportation sector 

Improved batteries for both HEVs and PEVs will be critical to the long-term economic, social, and environmental sustainability of our transportation system. Depending on the mix of technologies and the scale of adoption, transitioning to a light-duty fleet (that is, passenger vehicles you and I drive) of HEVs and PEVs could reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 30%–45% while reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil by 30%–60%.  

While many electric vehicles are already on the market, improved batteries could make them more convenient to operate and more affordable to a wider range of consumers. In addition to light-duty vehicles, some manufacturers are working to electrify medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to improve fuel economy and reduce idling. 

The more electric-vehicle batteries we make, the more we need to recycle  

Because electric-drive vehicles are still relatively new to the American auto market, the corresponding battery-recycling infrastructure is limited. As more and more electric vehicles approach the end of their lives, the market for recycled batteries will expand. Widespread battery recycling will keep hazardous materials from entering the waste stream, both at the end of a battery's life and during its production.  

EERE is working to develop battery-recycling processes that curb waste and minimize the environmental impact of lithium-ion and other kinds of batteries in vehicles. In February 2019, EERE launched its first advanced battery-recycling research and development center. The ReCell Center is helping the United States compete in a global recycling industry while reducing our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials. EERE is also incentivizing innovation in battery recycling through the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize, a $5 million phased competition that awards cash prizes to contestants who demonstrate new methods for profitably collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting spent lithium-ion batteries.  

WATCH: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman explains why a resilient battery supply chain is critical to achieving President Biden’s decarbonization goals 

Economy-wide decarbonization requires a strong domestic supply chain 

With the global lithium-ion battery market expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, EERE is working to ensure the United States can meet this growing market demand.  Responsible and sustainable domestic sourcing of the critical materials used to make lithium-ion batteries, including lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite, will minimize supply-chain disruptions, expand the domestic clean-energy workforce, and accelerate the decarbonization of America’s transportation sector.  

Just last week, EERE announced its intent to provide $2.91 billion to support domestic production of advanced batteries by funding battery-materials refining and production plants, battery-cell and pack-manufacturing facilities, and recycling facilities—all of which will add new jobs to the growing clean-energy economy. 

This announcement followed a 100-day review published by Department of Energy in response to President Biden’s executive order on domestic supply chains. The review recommended establishing domestic production and processing capabilities for critical materials to support a fully domestic, end-to-end battery supply chain. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates nearly $7 billion to strengthen the U.S. battery supply chain, which includes producing and recycling critical minerals without new extraction or mining, and sourcing materials for domestic manufacturing.