Four years ago, Elon Musk declared that his Tesla vehicles were going to have batteries that were cobalt free.
The first quarter of this year, amid the tremendous din of Musk’s desired acquisition of the social platform Twitter, Tesla revealed that nearly half of its vehicles produced in that time frame featured cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries.
Simon Alvarez, in Teslarati, writes that LFP batteries are not new but make up little of the electric vehicle market in the United States, Canada and the European Union.
In China, however, the LFP batteries are 44% of the market.
The LFP batteries are a component of the EV market that is being pursued by a number of automobile manufacturers as demand for cobalt continues to increase — and correspondingly its price.
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, as reported in TheStreet, expects more than 30% growth in cobalt demand due to new model launches and government legislation.
The problem with cobalt: Like nickel, cobalt is found in the Earth’s crust and is widely used beyond electric batteries, including in air bags, varnishes and drying agents for paint. Despite its utility, cobalt mining is fraught with controversy.
China, in its pursuit to dominate the electric vehicle market, owned one of the world’s largest cobalt and copper mines in the Republic of Congo until court action sidelined the Chinese company in a dispute over payments to the Congolese government, according to the New York Times.
The Republic of Congo, which supplies the majority of the world’s cobalt, uses children to mine the material in unsafe conditions, with many laborers killed or maimed by tunnel collapses.
This practice continues despite international pressure and watchdog groups that have called for reforms.
The state of the critical minerals’ supply chain: It’s in trouble, simply put. There is not enough mining to deliver the needed materials to not only foster a clean energy economy but to bolster national security in the United States.
Although U.S. President Joe Biden has set a target to have 50% of new car models sold by 2030 to be electric, some automobile manufacturers are warning it is an improbable feat.
RJ Scaringe, chief executive officer of EV builder Rivian, was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying “90% to 95% of the (battery cell) supply chain does not exist.”
What they’re saying: Observers accuse the Biden administration of being at odds with itself.
At the same time Biden is pushing for a clean energy revolution, his administration is derailing some domestic mining efforts, including a planned and permitted copper mine in Arizona and another one in Minnesota. His administration also revoked a 25-mile right of way on federal land for Alaska’s Ambler Mining District, drawing a harsh rebuke by that state’s governor.
“In February, the Department of Interior reopened an environmental impact statement for the Ambler Access Project that had undergone seven years of robust federal review and made a request to suspend the Ambler road right-of-way,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement distributed by Must Read Alaska.
He continued: “The Biden Administration suspended that right-of-way, saying subsistence and consultation with Alaska Natives wasn’t considered enough, despite 18 hearings in rural communities and 29,000 written comments received overall, and 50 pages of mitigation measures focused on preventing disruption to subsistence and protection of cultural resources.”
The politics of green power: Biden invoked the Defense Production Act — a Cold War-era law — to support additional domestic mining to shore up supplies of critical minerals and rare earth elements. That happened this spring.
The problem is his administration is also tossing out Trump administration changes to the environmental review process if that extraction takes place on federal lands. While the former president aimed to shorten that review process — which could drag on for years or even more than a decade — the Biden administration wants a return to the former, more thorough environmental reviews — which means long delays in mining projects.
Joe Lowry, a mining industry veteran also known as Mr. Lithium, made this observation: “You can build a battery factory in two years, but it takes up to a decade to bring on a lithium project,” as reported in Bloomberg.
Some congressional Democrats, too, are taking aim at the nation’s mining law that has been on the books since 1872, seeking to institute reforms that include establishing royalty rates for the first time on mining on federal land and stricter environmental standards. Those proposed reforms will be aired in a press conference next week.