Even as the Biden administration takes steps that oil and gas supporters contend will increase the nation’s reliance on foreign energy supplies, a US Senate committee this week held a hearing examining ways to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign supply chains and increase US manufacturing.
Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford took part in the hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Lankford’s questions on mineral availability and battery recycling were discussed with Edmund Adam Muellerweiss, the Chief Sustainability Officer at Clarios and Kelly Speakes-Backman, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary & Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy at the US Department of Energy.
In a press release after the hearing, the Senator pointed out he had supported ways to keep the country from becoming dependent on foreign countries for critical infrastructure needs including energy and minerals.
In January Lankford joined his colleagues to introduce the Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources (POWER) Act, which would prohibit the Biden Administration from blocking energy or mineral leasing and permitting on federal lands and waters without congressional approval.
In July the senator questioned Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on our dependence on imports from China after they prevented companies from shipping Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic, which resulted in frontline medical workers not having the equipment they needed to treat American with coronavirus.
Lankford: Mr. Muellerweiss, let me ask about the battery recycling that’s come up several times, and obviously the challenge that we have with so many of these minerals coming from conflict areas and child labor and from multiple areas where we have nations like China and Cuba that seem to dominate the market in certain different minerals, so the battery recycling becomes a big issue for us. My understanding is we’re around five percent at this point for some of these batteries—not dealing with existing car batteries now where we’re at near 100 percent of recycling but for some of the lithium ion and some of those. Where are we on recycling, and what can we do better for that?
Muellerweiss: First and foremost, Senator, no child should ever be harmed with materials that are used in batteries. Full stop. That’s why it’s so important to understand the full life cycle of these materials, so as I mentioned in my testimony from mining to manufacturing to end of life and recycling. As you noted, a very small percentage of lithium ion chemistries are currently being recycled today. There’s a significant amount of diversity. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when you say ‘lithium ion.’ That can be a variety of different configurations and chemistries, creating a little bit more additional complexity for recovery and recycling. But one of the key things that is evident and why we are excited to be a participant in the DOE’s lithium ion recycling prize is there’s an opportunity to collect those used batteries, which have some of those rare earth and critical minerals and ensure that they can be recovered in a cost-effective and responsible way right here in the United States to be able to turn those materials back into batteries.
Lankford: So why aren’t we getting more of those rare earths and critical minerals from here in the United States? We do have things like lithium here. North Carolina has that, but what’s been the challenge that we’ve had of actually doing more of that production here? Cobalt, we’re still very very dependent on the Congo and a tremendous amount of child labor that’s happening, to be able to do that mining there. So what can we do to develop more of that here in the United States?
Speakes-Backman: Secretary Granholm has spoken to this very committee and has made a commitment to really look and work with you all on how we can better source safely and responsibly the critical materials that are here, but in addition to that, she also has supported a three-pronged approach really of, number 1 being able to lessen the need for these critical materials by diversifying our supply, getting away from some of these areas that are just not acceptable to be taking these critical materials. Secondly is being more sustainable in the way that we do that work and third is really reuse and recycling…
Source: Lankford press release