Oil or rare earth mineral dependence? Pick your poison.
Fact: automakers are transitioning towards all-electric vehicle lineups at an astonishingly fast pace. It won't happen overnight, but things are going to be very different in just a decade from now. By 2035, GM, for example, aims to only sell EVs; the likes of the GMC Hummer and Chevy Silverado EV are only the beginning. For years, EV advocates have been shouting that America needs to end its energy dependence on fossil fuels for a list of reasons, among them national security. But here's the thing: mining rare earth minerals like lithium and cobalt, which are essential for EV batteries, also pose risks to US security.
CNN Business spoke to Bob Galyen, the genius who engineered the battery for GM's EV1 many years ago, about the battery industry and he raised some concerns.
Galyen, who worked for the world's largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, China's CATL, after leaving GM, says he's worried about America's overall lack of readiness in how it sources and produces EV battery materials.
"We have neither the raw materials nor the manufacturing capacity," Galyen said. "If the wrong country goes to war with us, we don't have enough batteries to support our military." The "wrong country" he's very likely referring to is China, the world's largest automotive market. China refines 60 percent of the world's lithium and 80 percent of its cobalt supply. That's a very dangerous position to be in, economically and defensively, for America. To make matters worse, there's no clear solution, at least in the short term.
The Biden administration's well-intentioned goal of having EVs account for 50 percent of all new vehicle sales by 2030, according to Galyen, is a national security risk. America could mine its own minerals domestically to help support this goal but there are concerns over environmental factors that are hindering these projects from moving forward. These factors are vital for America's long-term interests and welfare, but they're leaving the country vulnerable as EV adoption expands. It's a double-edged sword.
There is some good news, however. GM announced last year plans to source rare earth magnets for EVs domestically. That's certainly a start but still leaves the lithium and cobalt supply conundrum unanswered.