Recycling batteries is time-consuming and involves dangerous chemicals. This new process could make it easier—and reduce the amount of mining required to fuel the clean energy economy.
As the number of electric cars quickly grows—helped by policies like the $174 billion that the Biden administration wants to pour into a national network of chargers and consumer incentives for buying EVs—one challenge will be finding the materials to make the batteries the cars use. Cobalt, one key component, comes mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the supply chain could easily be disrupted and where mining is fraught with environmental and social problems like child labor.
Even without any disruptions, by some estimates, demand for cobalt could exceed supply by the end of the decade. Some companies want to begin deep-sea mining for the element, which could cause even more environmental challenges. But others want to mine an existing source: the growing pile of lithium-ion batteries that already exists in electronics, the renewable-energy industry, and electric vehicles.