Even as a big shift to electric vehicles (EVs) becomes a looming reality, it must be acknowledged that the road to a clean energy future begins in Washington. The production of EVs can lift the nation’s economy and play an essential role in decarbonization. That’s why encouraging the transition to EVs and their production in the U.S. should be an energy policy priority for the Biden administration and new Congress.
President Biden’s new executive order to move the federal vehicle fleet – some 650,000 cars and trucks – to made-in-America EVs is a welcome start, but it could prove a woefully incomplete step if this made in America EV future doesn’t include a commitment to build up the entire supply chain to support it. In other words, made in America EVs must also include mined in America.
There is no escaping the importance of US manufacturing and mining. With smart policy, we can help solve two critical problems rising unemployment and a need to decrease carbon emissions — if we jump-start the domestic manufacture of emission-free EVs, while showing the world that we possess the mineral resources to do it.
Building batteries and other EV components with minerals and metals from US mines is necessary, because America needs to bring to an end its heavy dependence on imported materials just like it did with oil, especially those from China. The Defense Department and the Interior Department have listed 35 minerals and metals as “critically important” to national security and the nation’s economy. China dominates the global supply, including the so-called “battery metals” — lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel — used in EVs and advanced electricity systems. With its lock on battery minerals, and battery manufacturing, China accounts for half of global EV sales.
Will the lessons America learned so painfully from the Arab oil embargoes in the early 1970s be repeated with China, which has a grip on the world supply of many minerals and metals? Let’s hope not. That dependence is a recipe for minerals blackmail that could pose a serious threat to the US auto industry and the nation’s economy.
Such a strategy of achieving minerals independence might seem far-fetched. But new mines in Canada and Australia are opened in less than half the time it takes in the United States. It takes ten years or more in the US for a company to obtain a permit to open a new mine. This calcification of the US mine permitting process means mining investment is flowing overseas when it’s needed at home more than ever. The resources are here; it’s now time for policy to ensure those resources are responsibly produced U.S. metals feeding the energy technology of tomorrow, not Chinese imports.
Part of the Biden team’s climate approach is expediting the permitting of clean energy infrastructure. Since mines provide the essential materials for everything from transmission lines and wind turbines to solar panels and EVs, domestic mineral production should be included in this effort. In fact, it’s a necessity. Just for the battery metals used in EVs, such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel, the International Energy Agency expects demand to jump 1,000 percent by 2050.
The EV revolution is underway. The question is whether Washington will have the foresight to ensure the US wins the race to capture it and the incredible economic opportunity that is coming with it.
Building an EV or battery factory, or the mines to produce the metals essential for them, generates thousands of well-paid construction and engineering jobs plus hundreds of supporting jobs in places like restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. These state-of-art factories and mines can be decades-long foundational businesses for communities in Ohio and across the country that have only seen industry dry up and leave.
From mines to markets, the prospect of rebuilding the nation’s industrial base and reshoring good, family supporting manufacturing jobs is tremendous. This is an opportunity that the Biden administration and Congress need to seize.
Dr. Robert W. Chase holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering from Penn State. He served as professor and chair of the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology at Marietta College from 1978 to 2015. He worked previously for Halliburton Services, Gulf Research and Development Company, and the Department of Energy and has consulted for numerous companies. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org