Digging This: Switching to Electric Vehicles Requires Massive Expansion of Battery Minerals

Digging This: Switching to Electric Vehicles Requires Massive Expansion of Battery Minerals

The ongoing transition away from fossil fuels is likely to lead to shortages of some key minerals used in electric car batteries that would require hundreds of new mines. That’s according to industry experts who expect the demand for electric car batteries to rise to tens of millions of units annually in the coming years.

The projected sixfold increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries over the next decade means as many as 384 additional graphite, lithium, nickel and cobalt mines may be needed by 2035 to power all of those new electric vehicles, industry forecaster Benchmark Minerals said in a report. Even a massive increase in battery recycling, as planned by companies like Redwood Materials and Li-Cycle, would only bring the number of new mines down to 336, according to Benchmark.

โ€œWe are heading down a steep cliff, unfortunately, our industry needed to invest $100 billion five years ago to avoid it,โ€ said Brian Minnell, Chairman and CEO of TechMet, a Dublin-based company that supports companies that produce and process electric vehicles with metals. battery, he said Forbes. โ€œOver two to three years, the pain will become severe. Over the next five to eight years this pain will increase due to the short supply of battery metal.โ€

Over the past two years, automakers have announced billions of dollars of investment in new product lines designed specifically to build electric cars and batteries to power them. But this is the easy part. Ensuring sufficient supplies of metals and minerals to make battery cathodes and anodes – which are currently sourced almost entirely from China, South Korea and Japan – means that automakers need to either become skilled commodity dealers or partners with companies that do business. Although Mennell estimates that the real supply crunch won’t start for three to five years, market prices for critical materials are already on the rise. Bloomberg reported, citing data from Asian Metal Inc.

General motors
Ltd., which intends to sell only electric cars by 2035, has been particularly aggressive this year in drumming up supplies from multiple sources, including lithium from South America, cathode materials from Canada, and betting that a new lithium extraction process in California’s Salton Sea could make Proving particularly impressive – if successful. In the near term, at least, the company believes it has what it needs.

โ€œGeneral Motors now has binding agreements to secure all battery raw materials to support our goal of producing one million units of annual capacity in North America in 2025,โ€ GM President and CEO Mary Barra said on the company’s earnings call in July. “This includes lithium, nickel, cobalt and full supply (anode-cathode material).”

Redwood led by Tesla
Co-founder, JB Straubel, stressed the looming shortage of battery materials since it came out of stealth a few years ago and warned of the urgent need to boost used battery recycling and find new sources of metal as demand rises through the end of the decade. “We can’t recycle on our way to 500% demand (we’ll need more mining),” Redwood chirp This month.

Tesla, the world’s leading electric car brand, said it plans to expand its factories to produce two million vehicles a year by next year and ten times that level by the end of the decade.

“If you look at Tesla’s ambition to produce 20 million electric cars per year in 2030, that alone will require twice the current global annual supply – and that’s before it includes Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors and the Chinese,” said Minnell. . Elon Musk also relies specifically on China for battery materials.

โ€œToday, Tesla buys 85% of its inputs from China or Chinese-controlled supply chains,โ€ said Minnell. He said that if there is any disruption or change in the company’s friendly relations with government officials there, “China could shut down Tesla within weeks.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

(For more on battery metal sources, see California’s lithium rush for electric car batteries hinges on taming toxic volcanic brine)

Adding new mines will take time and can create environmental damage, including contamination of groundwater, excessive water use, destruction of wildlife habitats, damage to topsoil, harmful runoff from chemicals used in some mining operations and contamination from tailings, and the material remaining after Precious metals have been removed. That’s one reason GM and TechMet are investing in lithium mining projects near the Salton Sea, pulling the silver metal out of the hot volcanic brine already used to power geothermal power plants in the area. The potential amount of lithium available in this part of California is enormous, but the process of extracting it from brine is still experimental and has not yet been implemented on a commercial scale.

“We simply won’t meet demand by 2035,” Morris says. Forbes. โ€œOn average, miners are getting material out of the ground at half the speed that the lithium-ion battery and electric car industry needs. This may improve during this decade but the demand for electric cars will not be satisfied โ€” or reach the level of a mature and stable industry โ€” until we get into the forties of the last century.”

Mennell says the challenge of expanding supplies is complicated by the need to limit damage to the environment and ensure sustainable extraction methods. For example, a promising alternative to mining and volcanic brine is the collection of ocean floor stone nodules that are rich in desirable minerals but threaten to damage aquatic ecosystems. Startups including DeepSea Metals, for example, have seen opposition from environmental groups over their plans to deploy large ocean floor mining robots for minerals such as cobalt and nickel.

New US legislation signed into law creating incentives for domestic production of batteries, metals and component sourcing from within North America and from US allies is a huge help but significantly more investment is needed, according to Mennell.

โ€œOne of the big solutions is for big climate change conglomerates, investing ESG capital to stop wasting their time with autonomous driving software startups and focus on facts,โ€ he says. โ€œUnless they put tens and tens of billions of dollars into mining and minerals โ€“ even though mining and minerals is ESG compliant and well managed โ€“ we will not have an energy transition and we will not meet the climate change goals.โ€

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