Consumers have never been more interested in
electric carsand climate change goals. But with automakers scrambling to produce more EVs than ever, we could be facing a problematic shortage in the near future.
A storm is brewing
With a looming battery shortage, carmakers are doubling down on mining raw battery materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt. The shortage would affect not only sourcing materials but processing and building the actual batteries as well.
Some companies are taking battery manufacturing into their own hands and constructing exclusive battery plants.
Rivian Automotive Inc. Chief Executive RJ Scaringe said, “Put very simply, all the world’s cell production combined represents well under 10% of what we will need in 10 years,” according to
Market Watch. Essentially, at least 90% of the necessary supply chain to keep up with demand does not exist.
Ironically, the precious metals needed to run an electric car can be just as difficult to get as gasoline.
CNNnotes that “the United States sources about 90% of the lithium it uses from Argentina and Chile, and contributes less than 1% of global production of nickel and cobalt, according to the Department of Energy.
China refines60% of the world's lithium and 80% of the cobalt.”
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No EV battery plan for the long-term
Though the Biden administration has pushed for more EV production in the short term, there aren’t long-term plans pertaining to electric batteries. Did you know it can take at least seven to 10 years to set up a mine?
Unfortunately, the U.S. is very dependent on foreign countries that have the manufacturing capacity and raw materials that we don’t.
If for political reasons China shut down the world's electric vehicle transition, what happens then? It’s also possible that China could restrict “exports of lithium hydroxide to give its domestic electric battery and vehicle manufacturers an advantage,” according to CNN.
As you can imagine, the price for critical battery metals has shot through the roof. According to CNN, “Some automakers like Tesla have made deals with suppliers of raw materials recently, which may help insulate them from shortages.”
If you’ve looked into buying an electric car recently, you’re very familiar with the federal tax credit awarded to EV car owners.
According to CNN, “The government has offered subsidies for electric vehicle purchases and charging infrastructure, but the mining sector hasn't seen similar support, the battery metals experts say.”
Setbacks and negative impact
In January 2022, due to environmental concerns, the Biden administration canceled leases for a nickel mine in the Twin Cities called Twin Metals.
“Last year Biden slowed a copper mining project in Oak Flat, Arizona that the Trump and Obama administrations had previously pushed for alongside Congress,” reports CNN. The administration wanted a deeper understanding of environmental implications and specific concerns of Indigenous people.
While trying to uphold the country’s values, US leaders are challenged when it comes to electric vehicle adoption, mistreatment of Indigenous people, and preserving the environment.
Producing an EV can emit more greenhouse gases than internal combustion cars, but over time, EVs leave a much smaller carbon footprint. According to CNN, “Electric vehicles have fewer emissions as there's no tailpipe, leaving only brake pad discharge and tire wear. Electric vehicles also lessen the need for fossil fuels like gas.”
While mining in the U.S. can produce negative effects on the environment, battery metals experts agree that we must accept the negatives as a tradeoff for the future livelihood of our planet. Perhaps another benefit could be enforcing ethical mining standards, contrary to practices found in places like the Congo.
Hopefully, discussions will now start to address America’s shortcomings on lithium-ion batteries.
A White House report from June 2021 commented on this security risk, claiming that "Innovations essential to military preparedness—like highly specialized lithium-ion batteries—require an ecosystem of innovation, skills, and production facilities that the United States currently lacks.”