Critical minerals really are in supplying electric vehicle development

Baron Hill

Colorado recently received $57 million from the federal government to help the state transition to the use of more electric vehicles (EVs). 

The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program established by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law will help states like Colorado build charging stations along interstate corridors and is part of the Biden administration’s goals of reducing climate emissions. 

However, limited access in the United State to essential critical minerals could imperil state and national plans for EVs and charging networks.

While electric vehicles offer a promising new means of affordable transportation, manufacturers still need critical minerals to build batteries for those EVs. Charging stations aside, we won’t be able to roll out EVs without enough batteries. Fortunately, the government can help by establishing strong supply chains to meet rising demand. We must act swiftly. Without access to a reliable supply of critical minerals, our EV goals will fail.

China is the world leader in producing and processing critical minerals. Public officials are aware of this dynamic, as an early executive order from President Joe Biden outlined the importance of establishing stronger critical mineral supply chains. In a June 2021 report, the White House outlined China’s control of this sector, noting the overwhelming majority of lithium and cobalt run through Chinese state-owned companies.

Fortunately, the federal government is working to challenge Beijing’s market control. The U.S. Department of Energy will launch a $675 million effort to strengthen critical mineral supply chains. Part of the DOE’s efforts is to develop domestic processing and production capacity. The goal is to strengthen America’s position as a global manufacturing leader.

While well intended, the U.S. isn’t equipped to produce the critical minerals we rely upon other countries to develop. We can look at China’s control of cobalt as an example. Even though the Democratic Republic of Congo possesses most of the world cobalt reserves, China dominates the processing of cobalt.  China’s market dominance is in part embodied by their extensive facilities, although China’s part is massively distorted because of state-directed subsidies and other cases of market manipulation. Even if the U.S. were to open more mines domestically, refining and processing these critical minerals would be prohibitively expensive.

The smartest move forward is for lawmakers to collaborate with publicly traded multinational corporations and foreign countries that already have reliable supply chains of critical minerals. This approach would help quickly and effectively establish resilient supply chains for American manufacturers.
The good news is the Biden Administration is warming to this approach and moving away from focusing only on efforts to reshore critical mineral production and processing.

As for an example on this point, President Biden’s Executive Order 13953 states America “recognizes the continued importance of cooperation on supply chain issues with international partners and allies.” Developing these partnerships will ensure manufacturers can build EV batteries so Americans can enjoy the benefits of important projects like Colorado’s NEVI segment.

A steady and reliable supply chain of critical minerals constitutes the foundation of EV manufacturing and development. Collaborating with multinational companies with reliable access to critical materials will allow the U.S. to manufacture the products of tomorrow like EVs and provide more efficient and energy efficient transportation.  Prioritizing this strategy will also help the U.S. prevent China from solidifying its hold on global critical mineral production and processing.

Colorado and the nation are on the cusp of building a modern charging network for the next generation of EVs.  To realize that dream, the U.S. must build a diverse and reliable supply chain of critical minerals and materials.

Baron Hill represented Indiana’s 9th Congressional District and served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  He was a member of the Blue Dog Caucus of moderate Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.