The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released a tool that examines how changes in costs, battery deployment scenarios and international actions affect long-term trends in the battery supply chain.
The transition to carbon-free energy is expected to require significant amounts of lithium and other battery materials to support grid-level energy storage, electric vehicles and mobile devices. NREL has developed a software tool, the The Lithium-Ion Battery Resource Assessment Model (LIBRA) understands the dynamics of a smooth supply chain for these materials.
An ongoing NREL study finds out the need for supply chain strength for a clean energy future. The LIBRA model helps researchers better understand the many factors that affect the supply chain of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery materials – key to the energy transition.
“Li-ion batteries offer advantages in performance, energy density, cost, and lifetime. However, electrification efforts are hampered by a variety of intersecting factors, including differences in markets, operations, and policies,” NREL said. “In addition, Li-ion batteries can contain scarce critical materials such as cobalt, but there are few natural resources in the country.”
LIBRA uses system dynamics modeling to analyze the supply chain and evaluate the economic viability of manufacturing, reusing and recycling lithium-ion batteries. The tool takes into account changes in costs, battery deployment scenarios and international actions, and the impact of these factors on long-term trends in the battery supply chain.
“While LIBRA cannot predict the future, this model allows researchers to ask and answer ‘what if’ questions to gain insights into a complex and rapidly evolving industry, NREL said. “LIBRA provides a detailed and consistent approach to guide research and investment in the Li-ion supply chain to secure, to optimize recycling processes and to ensure the flexibility and sustainability of the national grid and electrification of vehicles.”
LIBRA’s system dynamics analysis tracks the delivery and flow of materials as well as manufacturing and recycling costs over time. It includes sophisticated feedback loops that notify of changes at all stages of the chain. As a result, LIBRA can provide insights into materials availability and demand for lithium.
“For example, if we extend the life of electric vehicle batteries to reduce the overall environmental impact of Li-ion batteries, how could that reduce the availability of recycled materials? There are many factors at play,” said Dustin Weigl, a mobility research analyst at NREL.
The tool tracks the movement of lithium, cobalt, nickel and other elements through the supply chain. The model has repeatedly shed light on the economic viability of recycling these materials. It has highlighted the potential of regional recycling potential to replace mineral imports.
LIBRA offers, among other things, useful information and analysis for the following purposes:
- Investments and research are needed to grow the LIB recycling industry
- The importance of battery chemistry and sorting in the recycling supply chain
- Special regional recycling potential to offset mineral imports
- Economic and employment benefits resulting from battery manufacturing and recycling
“We are constantly updating LIBRA’s model structure and data based on the latest developments in the transportation and recycling industry,” Weigl said. “Technology advances rapidly, but LIBRA is designed to accommodate the next generation of cell chemistry, battery design and storage systems.”