Biden to order EV battery, mineral supply chain review

By James Marshall | 02/24/2021 01:37 PM EST

President Biden will sign an executive order today to review supply chain vulnerabilities.

President Biden will sign an executive order today to review supply chain vulnerabilities. Adam Schultz/White House/Flickr

President Biden will sign an executive order this afternoon to assess supply chain vulnerabilities in four areas including critical minerals and electric vehicle batteries.

The order comes as the automotive industry is being rocked by a shortage of semiconductor chips and nearly a year after a lack of personal protective equipment necessary to reduce transmission of COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in the United States’ supply chains.

The White House said in a fact sheet released today that the order is a means to address climate change and kick-start the economy.

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"By identifying supply chain risks, we can meet the President’s commitment to accelerate U.S. leadership of clean energy technologies," the White House said.

The order directs federal agencies to conduct 100-day supply chain reviews of pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, electric vehicle batteries and critical minerals, including rare earths.

The White House notes that the United States is a leading exporter of EVs but trails other countries in supplying raw materials and manufacturing batteries.

"The U.S. could better leverage our sizeable lithium reserves and manufacturing know-how to expand domestic battery production," the fact sheet says.

Most lithium extraction takes place in Argentina and Chile, while China is a major hub for chemical processing for electric vehicle batteries. In the United States, a group of companies are racing to bring new lithium projects online.

The Bureau of Land Management last month gave the green light to Lithium Americas Corp.’s Thacker Pass mine (Greenwire, Jan. 19).

Piedmont Lithium Ltd. and Standard Lithium Ltd. are developing projects in North Carolina and Arkansas, respectively.

"We have a skyrocketing demand for batteries that will power the shift to electrification of our transportation system and our grid. We’re pleased to see the Biden administration laser-focused on this," said Ben Steinberg, spokesperson for the Battery Materials & Technology Coalition, which includes Standard Lithium and Piedmont.

The president is also aiming to loosen China’s grip on rare earths, a group of elements commonly used in magnets that are components of EVs and advanced weaponry sought by the Pentagon.

Just one mine, in Mountain Pass, Calif., produces rare earths domestically. China supplies 80% of U.S. imports, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Beijing has considered curbing exports of its rare earths reserves, according to a report in the Financial Times last week.

The White House hopes the supply chain review will ensure the United States is "not dependent upon foreign sources" in times of national emergency, the fact sheet says.

After former President Trump signed an executive order on critical minerals supply last year, the Pentagon began using the Defense Production Act to invest in U.S. rare earths processing (Energywire, Oct. 1, 2020).

In November, the Defense Department poured $9.6 million into the processing capacity of MP Materials Corp., operator of the Mountain Pass rare earths mine.

And it awarded $30.4 million earlier this month to Australian firm Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. to build a processing facility in Hondo, Texas.

Rich Nolan, president of the National Mining Association, praised the executive order Biden is expected to sign today.

"We can’t import our way to economic and national security; we have to establish that security literally from the ground up by using American-mined materials produced by American workers under world-leading environmental standards," he said in a statement.

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