As EV sales accelerate, battery makers face a new shortage of a crucial mineral: graphite
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Ford Motor Co. reports that it sold twice as many electric vehicles in the month that just ended as it did in October of last year. But as demand for electrics is surging, manufacturers are facing yet another shortage of yet another crucial material — not lithium this time, but graphite.
The United States imports most of its graphite from China. That presents the Biden administration with a bit of an issue.
Even though they’re called lithium cells, that metal only accounts for 4% of the mineral demand in EV batteries. Graphite makes up more than half, and we’re not really mining any at home.
“The U.S. is presently 100% import dependent for its graphite needs,” said Anthony Huston, CEO of a company called Graphite One. “And really, when you boil it down, the U.S. has not mined any graphite for more than 30 years.”
Graphite One is trying to create a graphite supply chain in the United States, but onshoring takes time. The company’s proposed a mining project in western Alaska, but it has to wait on a feasibility study. Then permitting. Then construction.
“So really, over the next five years is when we hope to be up and running,” Huston said.
In the meantime, companies like Tesla that import graphite are paying more for the mineral. The price has climbed by nearly a third since this time last year.
That’s prodded the American Battery Technology Co. to onshore some production in part by recycling old batteries. “So we can recover the majority of components in a battery, purify them all the way back up to battery-grade quality, and then sell them back into the domestic market,” said Ryan Melsert, the company’s CEO.
But until there’s enough domestic supply, U.S. businesses are going to have to import graphite — mostly from China. That could give Beijing leverage, said Morgan Bazilian at the Colorado School of Mines. “Will we see pushback on that level of economic warfare from the Chinese?”
Last year, the U.S. added graphite to its list of critical minerals.
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