As the electric vehicle boom accelerates, U.S. companies are trying to jumpstart a domestic supply chain to make the necessary batteries that will replace gas-powered engines. The effort has spurred new investments in mining, manufacturing, and recycling, from the foothills of Idaho to the suburbs outside Charleston, South Carolina.
Just this week, there were several developments. Here's a quick rundown:
The U.S. Department of Energy announced that it closed a $2.5 billion loan to Ultium Cells LLC, a joint effort of General Motors and South Koren company LG Energy Solution to produce batteries domestically.
The loan will finance the construction of three lithium-ion battery cell facilities across Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The investment is expected to create more than 11,000 jobs, including 6,000 in construction and 5,100 in operations.
The majority of electric vehicles use some variety of lithium-ion batteries, and right now, they are overwhelmingly imported from countries such as South Korea. The partnership between GM and LG Energy is the latest example of federal support incentivizing multinationals to invest in bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.
Building a Battery Belt
On the other side of the supply chain, Redwood Materials on Tuesday announced plans to build a recycling facility that will break down used batteries into basic metals such as nickel, copper, cobalt, and lithium, all of which have seen their prices skyrocket with heightened demand.
As the company pointed out in a press release, a "battery belt" is forming between Michigan and Georgia, but unless these new manufacturers can get their hands on the necessary metals, their reshoring efforts are dead in the water.
Developing new mines is one answer to the problem, but local resistance and environmental regulations have made this difficult. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, recently declared a Nevada wildflower endangered, and its only known habitat is near the site of a planned lithium mine. The designation could obstruct the project.
Redwood is among a number of companies that are pitching advanced recycling practices as an alternative.
"At Camp Hall in Berkeley County, Redwood will recycle, refine and manufacture anode and cathode components on more than 600 acres, creating more than 1,500 jobs and investing $3.5 billion in the local community," the company said. "Eventually, this campus will produce 100 GWh of cathode and anode components per year – enough to power more than one million EVs."
Idaho Cobalt Mines
While building new mines in the U.S. is a struggle, some companies are making headway. Electra Battery Materials Corporation has acquired property in Idaho, which it says is home to the "largest unmined cobalt resource in the U.S."
The company is already mining cobalt at the nearby Iron Creek deposit, so this acquisition represents an expansion of its efforts and one more step toward creating what some are calling a "cobalt belt" in Idaho. It's also notable that Electra was previously focused mostly on refining EV metals, rather than mining them.
“Sourcing domestic supply of cobalt has become even more critical with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act,” said CEO Trent Mell in a press release “While our primary focus continues to centre on the commissioning of North American’s first cobalt sulfate refinery and launching our battery materials recycling demonstration plant in the coming weeks, advancing exploration activities in the Idaho Cobalt Belt are key to our long-term growth and efforts to onshore the EV battery supply chain.”