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New battery facility in Kentucky could tackle EVs' biggest problem: 'An entirely new industry in the United States'

The industry is emerging in part because of federal investments and incentives.

The industry is emerging in part because of federal investments and incentives.

Photo Credit: iStock

From Korea to Kentucky, the growing need for facilities to recycle electric vehicle batteries is being felt around the world — and now a $65 million investment is flowing toward the Bluegrass State to establish a battery-processing center in the U.S.

The Associated Press reports that construction will begin in November on a 100,000-square-foot facility in Hopkinsville, southwest of Louisville. The operation is a joint venture between Massachusetts-based Ascend Elements and South Korea-based SK ecoplant with its recycling subsidiary, TES.

Scheduled for completion in January 2025, the facility will create about 60 jobs, based on plans released in late September. 

The facility is sited to provide materials for the Apex 1 battery materials plant that Ascend Elements started construction on in Hopkinsville in October 2022.

The company expects that the recycling site will generate more than 13,000 tons of black mass annually for Apex 1 to make cathode materials. Black mass is a recovered mix of metals (such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel) that can be used in cathodes, the costliest parts of EV batteries.

The new recycling site, along with Apex 1, becomes part of a string of new battery-recycling and production ventures arising from roughly Michigan to Georgia, an area that news outlets, including Bloomberg, have referred to as the "U.S. Battery Belt."

The industry is emerging in part because of federal investments and incentives that include requirements for battery-component sourcing for EVs to qualify for tax credits

Recycling infrastructure addresses a highly charged issue. Although EVs produce less planet-warming pollution over their lifetimes than fuel-burning vehicles, the upfront pollution and harms associated with some metal mining and new-battery manufacturing is a chink in the armor of EV eco-friendliness.

Recycling used EV batteries will be necessary to address this, especially as increasingly popular EVs eventually age out over time.

Meanwhile, the potential for economic growth from the new facilities is garnering praise. 

"We've become the EV battery capital of the United States of America, and the jobs keep pouring in," Andy Beshear, Kentucky's governor, said in a video quoted by the AP.

"This is just the beginning of an entirely new industry in the United States," Mike O'Kronley, CEO of Ascend Elements, said in the company's news release. "For every new EV battery gigafactory that is built, we will need to build a new battery recycling facility to process manufacturing scrap and end-of-life batteries."

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