EV battery boom sparks need for locally sourced metals

Extraction, processing and assembly must be done in tandem, and today that task requires global coordination, said Andy Leyland, head of strategic advisory for Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

“Basically, you’ve got to get all of those parts happening at the same time from all over the world,” Leyland said. “That’s causing a lot of the headaches.”

It also leads to a substantial carbon footprint — something that EVs are aimed at eliminating, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

“You’re extracting these materials, shipping them halfway around the world to be processed and then shipping them potentially halfway around the world again to be built into cells,” he said. “That’s adding a lot of cost and a lot of carbon footprint just to move those materials around.”

At the beginning of this year, the U.S. had about 40 gigawatt-hours of annual battery production capacity: 35 at Tesla’s plant in Nevada and 5 at LG Energy Solution’s plant in Michigan, according to Guidehouse Insights.

By 2026, that capacity could grow at least sevenfold.

Ford Motor Co. in September outlined plans for two battery plants in Kentucky and one in Tennessee that can produce a combined 129 gigawatt-hours annually.

The Tennessee plant and one of the Kentucky plants are slated to open in 2025, followed by the second Kentucky plant a year later.

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General Motors and LG Energy Solution established a joint venture called Ultium Cells in late 2019. Ultium Cells’ forthcoming battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee will have a combined 70 gigawatt-hours of capacity, and GM plans to announce two additional battery plants in the U.S. The Ohio plant is scheduled to open next year, with the Tennessee plant coming online in 2023.

Stellantis plans to jointly produce batteries in North America with Samsung SDI starting in 2025. Another North America plant, in partnership with LG Energy Solution, is expected to open in 2024.

Stellantis aims to have an initial annual production capacity of 23 gigawatt hours at each plant, with the ability to reach 40 gigawatt hours in the future.

Toyota Motor North America also plans to build batteries in the U.S., but the automaker has not disclosed the capacity of its campus, expected to open in 2025.

In a few years, the U.S. will have plenty of battery manufacturing capacity, Leyland said.

“Then shortages move up the supply chain and start getting on the raw material side,” said Leyland. “It just takes a lot longer to build a mine than it does to build a cell plant or a chemical conversion facility.”

Experts told Automotive News that it can take up to a decade to prepare a site for lithium extraction. Uncertainty around EV demand also complicates long-term plans, Leyland said.

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“You’ve got to try to predict how big the electric vehicle market will be in five to seven years,” he said. “If we go back five years, we probably wouldn’t have thought we’d be as far ahead as we are today.”

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