Procuring enough critical materials for EV production is proving to be a challenge.
It's been just over a year since the Biden administration declared its goal for half of all vehicle sales in the US to be electric models by 2030, but it appears that the obstacles to achieving this feat may not be what we thought they were. Range anxiety, long charging times, and higher prices are common EV hurdles that have prevented many from taking the electric plunge, but a new report suggests that a shortage of the critical mineral lithium could stop that 2030 goal from happening. Besides lithium, there is also a potential shortage of copper which is used in EVs as a conductor.
"We'll [eventually] have enough [lithium], but not by that time," said Keith Phillips, CEO of Piedmont Lithium, in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. Phillips was referring to the industry's goals for electrification from 2030 and beyond. "There's going to be a real crunch to get the material. We don't have enough in the world to turn that much [lithium] production [...] by 2035."
A critical mineral that has become far more expensive in recent times, lithium is required for EV production. Lithium and its compounds are also used for the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, still the most common battery type used in EVs and plug-in hybrids like the new Dodge Hornet PHEV, Chevrolet Bolt, and Nissan Leaf.
The average EV battery requires around 17 to 22 pounds of metal, and as EV adoption rates climb, production of these batteries has been placed under increasing pressure. Currently, Australia and Chile are the largest lithium producers globally, but the US is lagging in its ability to approve local production sites quickly enough.
Piedmont Lithium is one of a few companies that is looking to benefit from high lithium demand with plans to open a lithium processing operation in Tennessee with construction beginning in 2023. Also joining the race to secure North American-sourced lithium, Snow Lake Lithium has just announced a plan to produce enough lithium to power five million EVs as it develops the world's first all-electric lithium mine.
Based in Manitoba, Canada, Snow Lake Lithium's site will measure 55,000 acres and the company is targeting commercial production for 2025. "Local sourcing of critical raw materials, such as lithium, is the only logical step to create a vertically integrated domestic supply chain," said CEO of Snow Lake Lithium, Philip Gross. "Snow Lake Lithium has access to a rich lithium resource and is on the doorstep of North American manufacturers. This is enough lithium to power 500,000 electric vehicles a year produced in North America, which would significantly reduce logistics and emissions that would be created by importing raw materials from China."
As the race to secure sufficient lithium production continues, copper is another concern. This material is used as a conductor in EVs; in fact, twice as much copper is used in EVs as opposed to combustion-powered cars.
As with lithium production, the world's biggest producer of copper is Chile. According to Hackaday, the nation produced 5.7 million tons of it in 2020, but copper demand is set to double by 2035. Without the construction of new mines and the expansion of existing ones, it will be challenging for copper production to keep up with rising EV demand.
These production challenges explain why automakers like Toyota are reluctant to place all its eggs in one basket when it comes to EVs. The Japanese automaker has repeatedly said it believes a more gradual transition is needed for electrification and that every market has different needs. As we get closer to 2030, we'll have a clearer idea of whether the world's infrastructure can keep up enough to make Biden's electric goals a reality.