U.S. government officials are looking to develop a domestic electric vehicle supply chain that would encourage the mining of materials for automakers and battery manufacturers, according to a recent report.
Officials from the U.S. Department of State, Department of Energy, Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey will meet in early May with automakers and lithium miners to discuss the effort, Reuters reports. Representatives from Tesla, GM, and Ford also plan to attend the meeting.
Senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are also expected to be in attendance. Murkowski is chair of the Senate’s bipartisan Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Hoeven is also a member. When asked for comment on the proposed meeting, Hoeven said in a statement to Reuters,
“We need to find ways to more efficiently develop our nation’s domestic critical mineral supply because these resources are vital to both our national security and our economy.”
The report had no comment from Murkowski, but on the day of its release, the Alaskan Senator tweeted that “breaking our foreign mineral dependence is critical to the future of manufacturing in America,” along with a diagram showing materials used in a smartphone.
Breaking our foreign mineral dependence is critical to the future of manufacturing in America. While we seek to ensure reasonable access for responsible mining & reform our permitting process, we can’t forget opportunities to develop technologies to extract minerals from coal. pic.twitter.com/X9UT4mVBc5
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) April 5, 2019
The meeting will reportedly focus on policy changes that could spur the development of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and graphite mining and processing.
Changing the Chain
As the report notes, electric automakers looking to expand into the U.S. are reliant on mineral imports. China dominates the global market, producing “nearly two-thirds” of lithium-ion batteries and controlling most lithium processing facilities, according to Benchmark Minerals Intelligence. The company, which focuses on price data collection and assessment in the lithium-ion battery market, is organizing the May meeting in Washington D.C.
Rising demand has caused U.S. imports of lithium to almost double since 2014, and electric automakers have been figuring out their own supply chain solutions. Last year, Tesla signed deals with Australian integrated lithium miner and refiner Kidman Resources Limited, and China’s largest lithium producer, Ganfeng Lithium.
Last week, Volkswagen announced its own lithium agreement with Ganfeng Lithium as the company ramps up its electric vehicle manufacturing plan. The ten-year agreement ensures Volkswagen is “already securing a significant share of its lithium requirement for batteries.”
Albemarle and Livent, U.S. chemicals companies with foreign operations in lithium mining, reportedly plan to attend the meeting, as do “executives from the handful of lithium mines under development in the United States.” Livent CEO Paul Graves told Reuters,
“We are looking forward to participating in a forum with policy makers and industry participants who are focused on ensuring the U.S. remains a leader in the development of the electric vehicle industry.”
Lithium Americas is one of five companies developing U.S. lithium projects using new, possibly “game-changing” technologies for metal extraction. President and COO Jonathan Evans said there’s “a real opportunity in the electric vehicle supply chain if the United States wakes up.”
Officials see the writing on the wall when it comes to where the car market is going in the future, and they don’t want to be left even further behind. While there would be a lot to figure out regarding regulations, logistics, and environmental concerns, the pursuit of a domestic supply chain for electric vehicle materials could have a drastic effect on the U.S. electric vehicle market — from manufacturing and mining jobs to EV prices.
Mass electric vehicle production starts at the supply chain and with the raw minerals.
If the U.S. wants to catch up to China on that front, they are starting to take the first steps in the right direction.
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