March 10, 2022: Lead batteries are set to underpin a new era of energy independence in the US — as the country scrambles to head-off potential shortages of critical material supplies for energy storage and electric vehicles, Battery Council International said on March 2.
BCI was responding to a “Let’s make it in America” plea by US president Joe Biden made in his State of the Union address on March 1, in which he called for an end to reliance on foreign supply chains.
But with the US still heavily dependent on imports for key battery materials including cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel — according to a US Geological Survey updated list of 50 mineral commodities critical to the economy and national security — the importance of the domestic lead battery industry is set to grow.
The list has been expanded compared to 35 commodities on the last list finalised in 2018.
‘Sustainable supply chain’
The USGS said there was a “compelling case” to add nickel to the list to strengthen development of a home-grown US battery materials supply chain for EVs and energy storage systems.
BCI executive vice president Roger Miksad said: “President Biden called for an end to relying on foreign supply chains, and we are proud of our existing domestic infrastructure that meets more than 90% of the domestic lead battery demand.
“The president also said that products should be ‘made in America from beginning to end,’ and that’s the description of sustainable lead batteries.
“Our strong, US-based supply chain is a well-established, reliable manufacturing model for batteries that employs nearly 25,000 people with above average salaries, generating a $26.3 billion economic contribution to the national economy.”
‘Enormous resource of lead’
“Supply of lead should not be a huge problem for the US battery industry,” says Farid Ahmed, lead analyst at Wood Mackenzie, the research house.
“They have an enormous resource of lead from the ‘urban mine’ — just sitting under their car hoods! Roughly two-thirds of the battery industry’s lead needs comes from the US domestic smelting sector. It could be greater, but a substantial proportion of battery scrap finds itself being processed abroad after being exported to countries like Mexico, Canada, Korea or India.
“Perhaps surprisingly, the US doesn’t have enough secondary smelting capacity to process all of this scrap, even if it hadn’t been exported. The country will have a shortfall of some 275kt per year of processing capacity for the next decade. The balance of the US refined lead requirement comes from countries such as Canada, Mexico, Korea and Australia. Some does come from Russia, but this typically runs at around 3% of total lead imports, so could be substituted from other sources without too much difficulty.”
Ahmed said: “The US lead and battery business wants to become more self-sufficient over this strategic resource to better control prices, improve competitiveness and enhance the environmental performance of lead recycling at a global level. This will only be achieved by finding some way to increase its ability to recycle lead together with export controls on scrap. Some of the emissions-free hydrometallurgical processes coming to fruition offer genuine prospects to achieve this.”
In a related move, the BCI’s ‘Essential Energy Everyday’ campaign published a new online briefing to guide policymakers in funding decisions for advanced battery R&D.
The Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles briefing points out that all EVs require “one or multiple 12V low-voltage batteries, which almost always are 12V lead batteries”.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy moved to shore up domestic supply chains for critical battery materials, with the release of a February 24 report — ‘America’s Strategy to Secure the Supply Chain for a Robust Clean Energy Transition’.
Graphic: Essential Energy Everyday.