January 17, 2019 / 3:22 PM / in 3 months

U.S. Energy Department to develop lithium recycling research center

FILE PHOTO: A bulldozer is seen at the lithium plant of the state owned Bolivian Lithium Deposits (YLB) in Llipi, on the salt flats of Uyuni, Bolivia, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it is launching a research center on lithium battery recycling in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for the metal that is increasingly being used in electric vehicles and electronics.

The department is also launching a prize for lithium battery recycling, with awards of $5.5 million, to speed the process of taking recycling designs from concept to demonstration.

Lithium-ion batteries are used widely in everything from laptop computers to cars made by Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and others, and demand for them is increasing rapidly as more electric vehicles begin to hit the roads.

The initiatives will “leverage the power of competition and the resources of the private sector, universities, and the national laboratories to ... bolster economic growth, strengthen our energy security, and improve the environment,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at a Bipartisan Policy Center event.

The moves are aimed at boosting the reuse of materials used in batteries needed for electric cars and other devices. The department hopes to boost the collection and recycling rate to 90 percent of all lithium-based technologies, up from 5 percent currently.

The Trump administration last year launched a strategy for the United States to boost domestic production of 35 critical minerals used in manufacturing, batteries and electronics, including lithium, uranium and cobalt, to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers.

The department said it is investing $15 million in the lithium battery recycling center, to be led by its national labs.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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