How a battery shortage could threaten US national security
Updated 8:48 AM ET, Wed February 23, 2022
Washington, DC (CNN)Bob Galyen has spent his career building electric car batteries. And he thinks the United States has a problem.
Galyen, who engineered the battery for the General Motors EV1, the first mass-produced electric vehicle, and also served as chief technology officer at a Chinese company that’s the top battery producer in the world, isn’t the only one. Elected officials, automakers and customers in the US are all excited about the possibility of electric cars, and those cars will be key to the US meeting its climate goals.
Simply building and selling electric cars, or providing subsidies for the people who make and buy them, isn’t enough. Electric cars need batteries the same way combustion cars need fuel — and the metal in those batteries can be just as precious and hard to get as gas. People like Galyen are worried the US simply isn’t ready for that switchover, or doing enough to get ready.
The United States sources about 90% of the lithium it uses from Argentina and Chile, and contributes less than 1% of global production of nickel and cobalt, according to the Department of Energy. China refines 60% of the world’s lithium and 80% of the cobalt. Those metals are critical for electric vehicles.
Galyen said he’s struggled to get the United States to create a long-term plan for electric batteries, instead watching as priorities shift depending on what political party holds the White House. The Biden administration has pushed for electric vehicles, yet halted mining projects in Arizona and Minnesota that would boost domestic supply of electric vehicle materials.
“We have neither the raw materials nor the manufacturing capacity,” Galyen told CNN Business. “If the wrong country goes to war with us, we don’t have enough batteries to support our military.”