US lithium mining: not if, but when – Automotive World | CarTailz

The return of mining could address ESG concerns about battery materials as the world goes electric. By Elle Farrell-Kingsley

As the demand for electric vehicles (EV) increases, so does the use of lithium batteries. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) forecasts that the global semiconductor industry will increase manufacturing capacity by 56% over the next decade. That expansion will be fueled by the global electric vehicle sales boom, with 23 million electric passenger cars projected to be produced by 2030, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Additionally, the global market for lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, the most widely used rechargeable automotive battery, was valued at US$7 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach US$58.8 billion by 2024, a significant growth.

Meeting this demand has led to new regulations and guidelines regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practices for battery development. “Often from both public policy and regulatory perspectives, countries are prompted to examine what has worked for other countries – and what hasn’t,” said Craig Dillard, litigation partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner. Dillard works with companies in the technology space and has published numerous papers on Li-ion battery supply chain shortages.

Regulations, policies and recycling

“If the regulation is a success or a workable policy in the EU, I expect lawmakers to push through similar regulations in the US. We need to do this in terms of traceability and making sure battery materials aren’t sourced from places they shouldn’t be.” The US government is pushing for the majority of US-made cars to be electric by 2030 and every car on the road to be electric by 2040

Companies will try to get more creative in sourcing the lithium, cobalt and other materials needed to make these batteries

Companies have yet to think carefully about how big the impact of battery recycling will be. After all, the life expectancy of these batteries is typically in the range of eight to ten years. Analysis by Earthworks shows that effective recycling of used batteries could reduce projected global demand by 2040 by 55% for newly mined copper, 25% for lithium, and 35% for cobalt and nickel.

Another challenge, he notes, is the prospect of recycling these batteries while remaining as environmentally friendly as possible. “If one country mandates an effective process for safely disassembling and disposing of older batteries, other countries will follow suit.” B. Increased company regulations and costs.

“When shortages arise, companies can become more competitive, which will affect the price, and countries will compete with each other to try to secure, source and supply the materials they need.” This could theoretically lead to some companies Taking shortcuts to meet demand.

break off

Many stakeholders are now looking for a re-evaluation of the process: “How can car manufacturers solve the problem that a product (the Li-ion battery) goes into an environmentally friendly car, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be such an environmentally friendly process in extraction and creation the battery?”

He expects the supply chain to be further strained as demand increases. “Companies will try to get more creative in sourcing the lithium, cobalt and other materials needed to make these batteries. Larger OEMs will likely have preferential access to supplies because they have more cash and resource capacity.”

Many processes go into manufacturing Li-ion batteries to power electric vehicles

According to Circular Energy Storage, a consultancy that tracks the Li-ion battery recycling market, by 2030 the US will need to recycle about 80 kilotons of Li-ion batteries, while Europe will have 132 kilotons. As demand increases, so does the pressure to track and show how companies acquired the rare metals. In order to meet climate regulations, “automakers need to solve these problems as best they can,” notes Dillard.

Looking ahead, he considers the potential of public perception: “It will be interesting to see in a couple of years whether there is a level of price gouging that prompts the public to demand drastically reduced prices. Would they be more forgiving and willing to get them from other places at a lower price?” This could mean that EV owners would be willing to compromise on the ethics and standards behind what’s going on in terms of battery recycling is presented.

Accelerate recycling

One way the US can meet demand while making sure everything is as green as possible, Dillard suggests, is to reintroduce mining. “The countries that have the supply and are willing to mine for it have a commodity that will continue to rise in price,” he says. “As the demand for valuable materials increases, the countries that mine them will have a much bigger impact.” If the US started mining its lithium, controlling and maintaining its ESG and ethical sourcing could be crucial, additionally to reduce costs for electric vehicle owners.

These environmental impacts occur on the planet wherever it receives its supplies

The US has the fourth largest lithium supply but only one mine, the Silver Peak mine in Clayton Valley, Nevada. Although there has been a lot of public opposition to opening other mines in the US, that could change: “I suspect that as prices rise, it will become more difficult to source from other places around the world, or that there will be ESG-like there are questions about it. So if a country is sourcing it in a way that isn’t environmentally sound or is doing it in a way that it shouldn’t be, there will be more pressure to mine locally in the US to make sure we have the supply we need.”

A benefit of mining in the US would be the country’s ability to set the parameters for the construction of additional lithium mines, thereby removing ethical concerns about current mining practices. “Ultimately, I think the US will add additional lithium mines. It’s a when, not an if,” he says. Setting up your own mines could go hand in hand with the latest battery recycling facilities, as all batteries produced are to an auditable and traceable standard and do not rely on other countries’ best practices, some of which have been deemed unethical, unsustainable and dangerous to humans .

Recommended course of action

As companies consider cutting corners to meet battery demand, so can countries with mining capacity. This issue continues to gain momentum: “How betrayed will consumers and citizens feel if we were told to get rid of our old cars and buy electric vehicles and yet it made no difference to climate targets because everyone just rushed to to try mass production ?” This was announced by Circulors Chief Executive Douglas Johnson-Poensgen automotive world back in July 2022. Circulor is a start-up for supply chain traceability solutions.

Extraction of raw materials by the Eurasian Resources Group
Extraction of raw materials by the Eurasian Resources Group

Dillard suggests that the US might hold out a little longer because it would rather pay a little more to get the lithium from other countries and not have to deal with the immediate environmental impacts inside the US. “But the reality is that these environmental impacts are happening on the planet, wherever it gets its supplies.”

alternative to lithium

Recycling and mining in the US may be just one of many approaches to making more sustainable and ethical batteries. One way to avoid lithium recycling altogether is to develop an alternative non-lithium battery. Here car manufacturers can try to give each other competitive advantages: “If they manage to produce a product that still generates the electricity or does what the Li-Ion batteries can do without lithium in it, that can also be a game his changer for the industry.”

Regarding patenting solutions, the Litigation Partner outlines that once lithium-free battery technology is perfected, a patent could be completed within a year. “From a legal perspective, there are patents for research in the US and then in other countries. Patents would have to be filed in all of these different jurisdictions to be recognized, in addition to anywhere that doesn’t have the patent that wants to use this technology on a global basis – which would be everywhere if it worked.”

As such, Dillard sees “a number of companies and countries around the world” that will attempt to develop such technologies in the years to come.

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