Can We Feed The Clean Energy Beast With Raw Materials Using Fewer Imports? – Forbes

by | Apr 24, 2022 | Energy

SOROWAKO, SOUTH SULAWESI, INDONESIA – 2019/03/28: Nickel ore seen being processed at the PT Vale … [+] Indonesia plant. Nickel mining by the PT Vale Indonesia, a nickel plant in Soroako, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. A number of economists and observers predict an increase in demand for nickel in future, one of the reasons is the era of electric vehicles where nickel is a raw material for its batteries. (Photo by Hariandi Hafid/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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The United States and the civilized world have another weapon against Russia for its unprovoked war on Ukraine: nickel. This is a critical element that goes inside of the batteries used in electric vehicles and for grid balancing. Russia is the world’s third-largest supplier of nickel.

But this gets to a broader point: the minerals used for today’s battery storage devices are coming from places that may not be friendly to democratic values. Lithium, cobalt, graphite, and manganese are among the other raw materials. Can nickel be purchased from less hostile countries? Is it feasible to recycle those raw materials? And what technologies are on the horizon to replace the prevailing lithium-ion battery?

According to Stephanie Shaw, a technical executive for EPRI, the decision on whether to recycle the raw materials or import them must consider all of the “externalities” tied to mining and shipping, which have greenhouse gas implications. And the current supply chain disruptions must also figure into that tabulation. “Whenever that cost-benefit analysis is done, it has to include all of those costs over the material’s life cycle.

“When recycling, there’s the actual extraction of the material and the treatment of the material,” says Shaw, at a webinar hosted by the United States Energy Association, in which this reporter was a panelist. “Battery recycling vendors have been able to substantially enhance the efficiency of these processes and create much higher product purity. This widens the ability to go into a different range of products. It changes the whole economics of recycling.”

Historically, lithium …

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