Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), long one of the leaders on Capitol Hill pushing for a comprehensive overhaul of our nation’s mineral resource policy, addressed the challenges of our nation’s over-reliance on foreign – and especially China-sourced critical metals and minerals against the backdrop of the current Coronavirus pandemic in a post for the online discussion forum “OurEnergyPolicy.org.”
Citing ARPN expert panel member and managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence Simon Moores, who in 2019 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Sen. Murkowski chairs, lamented that the U.S. was so far merely a “bystander” in the “global battery arms race,” Sen.Murkowski wrote:
“We have effectively surrendered the front end of the supply chain to other nations. If we fail to adjust course, we will continue to cede jobs and economic growth. We will face supply disruptions and price spikes for essential building blocks that we effectively choose not to produce. The Trump administration deserves credit for the steps it has taken to change our trajectory, and I have re-introduced my American Mineral Security Act to strengthen those efforts. (…)
As our country begins to emerge from the current crisis and considers options to restore our economy, it is critical that we set a course for long-term resilience by addressing the supply chain vulnerabilities the pandemic has exposed. That should start with mineral security—and the modernization of federal policies that will serve to protect us going forward.”
Invited to comment on Murkowski’s remarks, Moores took to OurEnergyPolicy earlier this week and noted that since his Senate testimony, “the US has fallen further behind in this global battery arms race.
“In February 2019, there were 70 battery megafactories in the pipeline of which 46 are in China and 5 in the USA. Today there are 136 of these super-sized electric vehicle battery plants in operation or being planned: 101 in China and 8 in the USA. China is building a battery gigafactory (megafactory) at the rate of one every week; the USA at one every four months. In 2019, China produced 72% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries whereas the USA only 9%.”
“The world’s supply chain arrows point toward’s China for production of lithium-ion batteries as China understands that this is the enabling technology for the 21st-century auto industry and critical to our future energy needs via storage.
This isn’t just making batteries for a niche auto, this is industrial infrastructure the 21st century and China holds the sway of power. The USA needs to ask itself when the last time it built a heavy industry from scratch? It’s likely to be before its leaders were born in 1933 and FDR’s New Deal. This is the scale of the challenge facing the world’s biggest economy: Building secure, local, hi-tech supply chains for a lithium-ion economy. In turn, this will create millions of jobs and put the USA at the forefront of this energy storage revolution.
Now that the battery megafactories have arrived, Moores says the “focus must turn to building them within the USA and securing the inputs (raw materials) and outputs (recycling) to make this happen.”
The time to end our “bystander” status in the global battery arms race (and beyond, because our over-reliance on foreign metals and minerals does not end with battery tech) is now.
And for a visual introduction to the issue of our nation’s mineral over-reliance on China, check out these two clips by the Clear Energy Alliance.