Mining expert Trent Mell, CEO of Electra Battery Materials, is pleased about the Biden Administration’s allocation of $3.1 billion to promote the domestic manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries in the United States. However, Mell says the manufacturing is only half the battle, as more focus will be needed on the upstream activities of the EV battery manufacturing supply chain.
Yesterday, we reported the Biden Administration had officially announced it would launch a $3.16 billion plan to boost U.S.-based manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries. The funding will support grants to build and develop battery and battery component manufacturing facilities within the United States.
The move is a small part of a much larger shift to electric vehicles, a plan that the U.S. has put in place to catch up with leaders China and Europe, who have adopted EVs at a much larger rate than Americans have. The U.S. government has set aside external goals of having 50 percent of all passenger sales be electric by 2030. Additionally, the U.S. government wants 600,000 cars and trucks within the federal fleet to be EVs by 2035.
Mell, who has pushed for domestic manufacturing of batteries and mining practices in North America, has positive thoughts regarding the new $3.14 billion Biden plan to push for more battery production in the U.S. A nudge to the largest battery manufacturers globally to invest with plants in the United States is undoubtedly a good thing, but Mell has concerns about sourcing materials and whether more facilities means more mining.
“It appears that this $3.1 billion in funding for cell plants will largely end up in the hands of some of the largest companies already operating in the EV supply chain,” Mell told Teslarati. “If my assessment is correct, the opportunity here is to convince the large, established battery makers to invest in America over other western economies. “
It is true that many of the largest battery manufacturers in the world have been scouting land in the United States, Canada, and other North American territories for potential cell production projects. CATL, the world’s largest supplier of lithium-ion battery cells, has been scouting sites for a new $5 billion manufacturing plant in the region to supplement the growing EV transition and its need for EV batteries. Building the cells is not an issue, but sourcing materials for them is.
This is where Mell’s concerns begin to rise. As battery manufacturing plants are great, there needs to be a bigger focus on upstream and midstream activities that would supplement the entire supply chain’s ability to remain consistent. “What western economies really need are new investments in upstream activities (mining) and in the midstream (chemical plants),” Mell told us in an emailed statement. “This part of the supply chain is more capital constrained and the investment cycle is a much longer one. If we don’t invest further up the supply chain, all of these battery plants will face a shortage of raw materials.”
Mell pushed for automotive CEOs, like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Ford’s Jim Farley, to pressure more EV battery material sourcing within the U.S. to reduce dependence on foreign sources. After nickel prices rose from $30,000 to $100,000 per metric ton, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to surge domestic production of EV materials. However, more long-tail investments need to be pushed on mining and obtaining these materials domestically, which could affect the production of EV batteries down the road.
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