WATCH: Sen. Kelly Highlights the Economic and National Security Importance of Critical Mineral Recycling in Arizona
Today, during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Arizona Senator Mark Kelly highlighted the economic and national security importance of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign adversaries — like China and Russia — for our supply of critical minerals by investing in critical mineral recycling, including in Arizona.
Kelly also highlighted the impact of investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law on strengthening our critical mineral supply chain, while questioning the CEO of Li-Cycle, the largest lithium-ion recycler in North America. The Department of Energy has provided a conditional commitment of a $375 million loan to expand Li-Cycle’s capacity to convert processed critical minerals into battery-grade materials for electric vehicle batteries.
Click here to watch Sen. Kelly’s remarks. See below for a complete transcript:
Sen. Kelly: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to address our domestic source of critical minerals. Securing them is incredibly important. It’s not just to support growing domestic industries like battery manufacturing, but also for our national and economic security.
Our foreign adversaries – China and Russia – control the vast majority of certain critical mineral supply chains, and we’ve seen in recent months that they’re willing to utilize that control to apply pressure on us.
For example, earlier this month, China announced that it would restrict the export of gallium and germanium products to the United States. This is a critical mineral, used in microchips, in defense systems, and renewable energy systems.
And this is just one example of a critical mineral that is controlled by our adversaries.
So I’m glad we have an opportunity to dive into this hearing today to discuss one strategy that we have to reduce our reliance on supply chains which need to cross an ocean — that is reusing critical minerals from existing devices.
In fact, about a month or so ago, I had the opportunity to visit with the Secretary of Energy, Secretary Granholm – one of Li-Cycle’s recycling “spokes.” This factory – or facility – is located in Gilbert, Arizona.
I’m glad that Mr. Kochhar is able to join us today, to share more about his work and what the company is doing in Arizona and across the country to recapture and reuse critical minerals in batteries and other devices. It’s pretty fascinating what you’re able to do.
If scaled up, this process can be a win-win for our country. These companies will create great-paying manufacturing jobs here at home. They will reduce our dependence on critical minerals from abroad. And they help us scale up our renewable energy economy.
So, Mr. Kochhar, it’s good to see you again – can you start off by discussing how much e-waste [electronic waste] will be disposed of in the coming years? Do we have the capacity in the United States right now to recapture and re-use all of these materials?
Li-Cycle CEO, Ajay Kochhar: Thanks, senator. The short answer is no. We don’t have enough capacity to deal with the materials domestically. In fact, I often get asked, ‘who’s your biggest competition?’ Well, our biggest competition is actually shipment to Asia. And people ask about company names, [but] it‘s really that. You have a lot of groups that brokering and trading the materials, leaking it from the United States. I think an objective should be if we make it here, we should use it here, and recycle it here. That would be a way to keep the critical materials in the supply chain.
Now, what’s the gap? The gap is around domestic solutions to actually do that economically. So that’s what we’re doing. But also recovering things like lithium, which is what we focus on for a lot of value. Just some stats, quickly. This year is probably 100,000 tons of batteries alone – lithium-ion batteries alone – in the United States need to be recycled. Our capacity today is probably 30,000 tons. It’s far off from the mark, and it’s growing very fast every year.
Sen. Kelly: It was a fascinating visit. They chop up the batteries and they have processes that pull out not only the lithium but the cobalt sulfite, the nickel sulfite, magnesium carbonate, and other materials. And then sell them to manufacturers of batteries. It’s really a win for everybody.
Have companies like yours benefited from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act?
Li-Cycle CEO, Ajay Kochhar: Tremendously benefited. I thank Congress for the work that has been done in the Senate. What we’ve seen is a big acceleration in terms of the demand for these materials and actual domestic activity. One of our challenges have been, how do we actually get it back in the supply chain in our downstream? If it’s not there, they’re going to be shipping it overseas. So that’s been great.
As I mentioned in my remarks, we have a $375 million loan commitment from the DOE [Department of Energy], which we’re very appreciative of. We’re already doing it, but this helps to accelerate what we’re doing.
Sen. Kelly: And that loan guarantee is helping you to scale the company?
Li-Cycle CEO, Ajay Kochhar: Yeah. That’s for our facility in Rochester, which is where we’ll extract that lithium, nickel the cobalt, which is the key part of what we’re doing.
Sen. Kelly: Any additional steps you think congress should be focused on to ensure that E-waste – which can be recycled – does not end up in a landfill?
Li-Cycle CEO, Ajay Kochhar: I think what I said regarding leakage of material to Asia is something that needs to be looked at. It’s a hidden thing happening. It needs companies to step forward and build like we’re doing. But there are policy initiatives that could help around that. And there’s a range of things we’d be happy to support there in terms of being a resource.
Sen. Kelly: Well, thank you for being here today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.