Round and round we cannot go.

The energy transition requires a huge increase in many materials, such as lithium, cobalt, copper and several others. The forecasted requirements far exceed the current processing capacity. Not to worry I am told; we can recycle and with the IRA we are investing billions in support of recycling.

I must have missed this sleight of hand in my engineering classes, but it seems somewhat obvious to me that I can’t recycle something I don’t have. Since I am sitting on an airplane with a napkin, let’s do some quick math.

Assume that EV growth will be 50% per year for the next 5 years. Let’s also assume that the batteries in an EV will last for 5 years. Assuming that an EV uses some quantity of lithium (the actual amount is not important for this thought experiment), by the 5th year we will need 5 times more lithium than we did in year 1. But wait, none of the earlier batteries are available for recycling since they are still in use. The growth of lithium must come from new mines and processing facilities.

Don’t get me wrong recycling is important, but it can wait. We have a primary supply challenge to worry about first.