America’s Urgent Drive for EV Battery Independence
In the United States, electric vehicles are broadly viewed as the future of transportation. Charging stations are being installed across the country; people are excited about driving electric cars and trucks. U.S. automakers have already invested billions in preparing to produce electric vehicles. But - there's a big problem.
Getting to widespread electrification in the United States requires an increase in domestic lithium-based battery manufacturing by as much as 20 times or even 30 times current capacity, says Venkat Srinivasan, who works with the U.S. Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory, based near Chicago.
Currently, the United States relies on imported advanced battery components from Asia, a dependence surging in tandem with the rising appetite for electric vehicles.
U.S. imports of lithium-ion batteries jumped 86 percent in the last three months of 2020, growing eight times faster than the year before, according to global trade data company Panjiva. China shipped a 48 percent share of the imported lithium-ion cells and packs in the fourth quarter of 2020, followed by South Korea with 26 percent. Germany shipped another seven percent and Japan supplied six percent.
The Biden Administration realizes that this high level of imports exposes the nation to supply chain vulnerabilities that threaten to disrupt the availability and cost of these technologies.
In June, President Joe Biden announced a new set of clean energy policies intended to put the country on an electrified track to lower its carbon footprint.
"We’re going to need a significant increase in battery production to supercharge America’s clean energy future, which means we urgently need to build up our capacity to research, develop, manufacture and market batteries right here at home," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at the time.
On Monday, Secretary Granholm announced lab grants worth $209 million for EV battery research in an attempt to give the U.S. an advantage in the race to build and secure an EV battery supply chain.
PRESIDENT BIDEN’S ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR MILLIONS OF AMERICAN FAMILIES AND BUSINESSES TO MAKE THE SWITCH TO ELECTRIC VEHICLES. BY DEVELOPING SMARTER VEHICLE BATTERIES, WE CAN MAKE THESE TECHNOLOGIES CHEAPER AND MORE ACCESSIBLE, WHILE POSITIONING AMERICA TO BECOME A GLOBAL LEADER OF EV INFRASTRUCTURE PRODUCTION AND CLEAN ENERGY JOBS.
The security part is important to the Biden Administration. In June, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese issued a report that declared lithium "essential" to U.S. economic security, and "critical" to U.S. national security.
Global demand for lithium is expected to grow 4,000 percent by 2040, and China currently controls 80 percent of the global lithium market, with other sources in Australia and Chile.
Right now, Chinese chemical companies account for 80 percent of the world’s total output of raw materials for making lithium batteries. China is quickly buying up stakes in lithium mining operations in Australia and South America, according to Florida investment analyst James Hyerczyk.
With 101 of the world's 136 lithium battery plants located in China, that country also dominates lithium battery production.
Speed is of the Essence
In the United States, only the state of Nevada has deposits of lithium, and the race to mine them is zooming along to meet projected demand. According to a 2021 Benchmark Mineral Intelligence Forecast, "Lithium-ion battery demand in the United States is expected to increase by over 900 percent in the next decade."
And prices are going up too. Battery cell producers have begun to increase lithium-ion battery cell prices following a period of consistent raw material price rises throughout 2021, particularly for lithium, according to the Benchmark Forecast.
Argonne National Lab has amassed a portfolio of more than 250 patented battery advances already and will work with the other 16 Department of Energy national labs across the country to meet national goals.
The U.S. must quickly build up "a secure, sustainable materials and technology battery supply chain," Srinivasan said.
As director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) and deputy director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), Srinivasan has an understanding of what it will take to achieve these goals.
NEW INNOVATIONS ARE NEEDED IN ALL ASPECTS OF THE BATTERY SUPPLY CHAIN TO MEET OUR GOALS. AND WE MUST DO THIS FAST – WITHIN THE NEXT DECADE – IF WE ARE TO LIMIT THE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE. THERE IS A TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE THE INDUSTRY OF THE FUTURE.
Argonne National Laboratory
"While the U.S. has all the pieces to achieve these goals, they are fragmented. The Li-Bridge alliance will bring these pieces into a cohesive whole," Srinivasan said.
The New Public-Private Li-Bridge Alliance
Argonne will serve as the facilitator between private industry and the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries, which recently released a National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, 2021 – 2030.
The blueprint outlines goals on solving breakthrough scientific challenges for new materials and developing a manufacturing base that meets the demands of the growing electric vehicle and stationary grid storage markets.
"The new Li-Bridge alliance announced today is a major step forward in developing and sustaining a robust, domestic supply chain for batteries, which will be critical to vehicle electrification," said Michael Berube, deputy assistant secretary for sustainable transportation at the Department of Energy.
"This coordination between public and private entities across the nation is paramount to achieving our vision of establishing a battery materials and technology supply chain that supports long-term U.S. economic competitiveness," he said.
With the goal of building bridges between the public and private sectors, Li-Bridge will host a series of national forums to identify opportunities and challenges, align stakeholders and promote collaboration.
Private industry participation in Li-Bridge will be facilitated through an alliance with three U.S.-based convenor organizations representing more than 600 industry stakeholders:
NAATBatt International, NAATBatt International promotes the revitalization of advanced battery manufacturing in North America.
New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium, NY-BEST, promotes energy storage through education and thought leadership.
New Energy Nexus is an international nonprofit that supports clean energy entrepreneurs with funds, accelerators, and networks in California, New York, China, India, Southeast Asia, and East Africa.