energy insights

EV Industry Can’t Put the Cart Before the Horse

Putting the cart before the horse is a colloquialism dating back, of course, to times when we used carts and horses to get around.

We transitioned away from carts and horses a long time ago and we’re in the midst of another transition as we move away from gasoline cars and trucks to vehicles powered by electricity. But, trouble may be ahead for electric vehicles because we’re putting the cart before the horse once again.

EV supply chain needs U.S. lithium

There are many electric vehicles on the road and millions more are coming in the next few decades, but the International Energy Agency is wondering where we’ll get the batteries to run them.

Chinese manufacturing giants can certainly produce batteries, but even they will have to pull back on the reigns without raw materials, and projected demand for lithium, cobalt and nickel could outpace future production from the world’s mining industry, which sums up the IEA’s cart-and-horse conundrum.

“The shift to a clean energy system is set to drive a huge increase in the requirements for these minerals, meaning that the energy sector is emerging as a major force in mineral markets,” the IEA said in a recent executive summary.

Over the next 20 years, the agency says demand for lithium will increase by nearly 90%, followed by nickel at nearly 70%. EV batteries are already the largest consumer of lithium, and batteries will become the largest consumer of nickel by 2040.

The bottom line is that clean energy’s run on critical minerals has already begun and it will only intensify as the battery industry strains to quench its insatiable hunger for lithium, nickel and cobalt.

Mining of metals requires regulatory updates

That’s why former U.S. Federal Highway Administrator Thomas Madison is sounding alarm bells.

“Current U.S. battery metal production is a fraction of what it needs to be,” he said in a recent commentary written for RealClear Energy.

“We must reshape U.S. domestic mining policies at all levels of our government to ensure we can access, produce and process our vast mineral resources,” Madison says. “The alternative is trading today’s OPEC-driven oil market volatility for a battery supply chain dominated by China.”

And he’s right. The U.S. must step up to the challenge of building a robust lithium battery supply chain.

While electric vehicles are at the heart of the fight to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change, there is no pathway to meet global climate targets without aggressively ramping up the production of minerals and metals.

Domestic lithium exploration, production and mining infrastructure are just as vital to the electrification of America’s transportation future as the EVs themselves. Instead of relying on foreign countries for critical minerals, the U.S. needs cleaner, innovative approaches to producing raw materials right here at home.