The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is making an effort to increase battery production in the country.
The DOE recently announced it would provide $3.5 billion to companies that produce batteries and the important minerals that go into them.
Officials see batteries as an important climate solution. The devices can power cars and store clean electricity made from solar panels or wind turbines.
The idea is to use fewer fossil fuels for cars and power plants.
Lithium ion is currently the favored battery for electric vehicles and clean electrical storage. The DOE wants to strengthen the supply. The agency estimates that by 2030 demand for lithium batteries will increase by as much as 10 times.
President Joe Biden’s administration has set a goal of lowering the pollution that causes climate change to zero by 2050. It also wants electric automobiles to represent half of all new car sales by 2030.
Some officials, industry experts and others are concerned that the supply of battery materials will not keep up with the demand. Others worry that too much of the industry is located in Asia.
Jodie Lutkenhaus of the Texas A&M University said she is closely watching U.S. battery production and manufacturing. “I’m worried that we may not catch up and end up in the same situation we’re in now with the semiconductor industry,” she said. Pandemic closings and suspensions slowed manufacturing in Asia. A microchip shortage resulted, affecting the availability of vehicles and electronic products.
“The same thing can happen with batteries if we don’t diversify where batteries are made and where materials are sourced,” Lutkenhaus said. She said the U.S. must take part in battery production and manufacturing to avoid possible worldwide shortages in the future.
A measure called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $6 billion in total financing for battery manufacturing, including the processing of materials needed to make them.
So far, 15 projects are receiving the assistance. They include companies that mine minerals like graphite and nickel that are used in lithium batteries. Later, contracts will go to other companies, including finance and chemistry businesses.
Here’s how it works: A company might want to build a factory to make special materials for electric cars. It estimates the cost of building the facility and commits to covering half of the cost. If the company is selected for the program, the government payment would cover the other half.
Albemarle, a major lithium producer, received financing for a factory in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The factory processes lithium from ore collected around the world. The company said that in addition to EVs, demand for lithium also comes from electronics like medical devices and smartphones. Without the DOE financial support, the project “would have likely progressed along a different time scale,”Albemarle said in an email.
Matthew McDowell is with the Georgia Institute of Technology. He said the law has changed U.S. battery manufacturing in the past three years. He is excited, he said, about the new batteries for clean energy storage, including solid state batteries, which could possibly hold more energy than lithium ion.
Tom Moerenhout of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy said it will be difficult to increase the worldwide supply of minerals for the predicted battery demand in 2030. “It’s pretty huge,” he said, noting that a new mine on average takes 16 years to begin commercial production.
But with the price of lithium rising, Moerenhout said, different battery types become more interesting. One he hopes to see increase is sodium ion batteries to help with the electrical grid. “The potential is quite huge,” he said, because they are safe and not costly.
Companies can officially request financing through mid-March.
I’m John Russell.
Isabella O’Malley reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
battery – n. a device that is placed inside a machine to supply it with electricity
panel – n. a flat surface
turbine – n. an engine that has blades that are caused to spin by wind
fossil fuel -- n. a fuel such as coal, oil, or natural gas
semiconductor – n. an object that allows some electricity to move through it and that is used especially in electronic devices