First-of-a-kind group launches to push EV battery production

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2020

A coalition of companies have launched a first-of-its-kind lobbying group focused solely on scaling up U.S. supplies of battery minerals and mineral processing — a goal to avoid supply shortages of a technology considered critical for electric vehicles and renewable power.

The Battery Materials & Technology Coalition’s initial six members — which are based in both U.S. and Canada — include miners of graphite and lithium, which are key components in the batteries used for electric vehicles and energy storage. Cobalt and nickel miners may also sign on as members soon, according to spokespeople. Involved companies are Amsted Graphite Materials LLC, Forge Nano Inc., Nouveau Monde Graphite Inc., Piedmont Lithium Ltd. and Standard Lithium Ltd.

Unlike existing mining or battery associations, the coalition will concern itself with the “upstream and midstream” of battery production — that is, extracting the raw materials via mining or recycling, and processing them so they can be used in lithium-ion or other battery chemistries. The group said it will lobby at the federal and state level.

Tax incentives, grants, loan guarantees and other federal policy supports will be the main objectives of BMTC, which aims to extend the federal government’s role well beyond the research and development work already being carried out at national labs.

“We need not just R&D, but scale-up dollars,” said Ben Steinberg, spokesperson for BMTC.

The coalition may also wade into conversations around trade policy, given China’s central role in battery production. That could include domestic content provisions for federal funds and even tariffs on foreign-made imports. It could also mean special links with Canada, a close U.S. ally that shares road and rail links and has similarly large deposits of battery minerals.

The group also plans to promote policies that could help adoption of EVs — the presumed source of much new battery demand. One of its members, lithium producer Piedmont Lithium, is also part of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, a lobbying association that launched in November with the aim of phasing out gas car sales by 2030 (Greenwire, Nov. 17).

“Any kind of policy that’s promoting EVs, we’ll be supportive of,” said Steinberg.

“We want to create full hubs around car and battery manufacturing: in Detroit, in the Southeast with all of the [electric] companies going in there, and in Texas and California, where Tesla is,” he added.

The announcement highlights renewed optimism among some battery advocates, who say that after years of incremental movement, federal officials could finally throw their full weight behind the development of U.S. mineral supplies.

That optimism was stoked earlier this week by the Energy Department’s announcement that it would give special consideration to “critical minerals” projects when awarding loan guarantees — one of the policy supports sought by BMTC (Energywire, Dec. 2).

The new coalition may also seek to win support from Republicans by tailoring their message toward China hawks.

One September report released by the House of Representatives’ all-Republican China Task Force called on Congress to remove barriers to mining for critical minerals for renewables and EVs, while characterizing Chinese control over battery supply chains as part of the country’s “malign behavior.”

“We are beholden to [China],” said Steinberg. “All they have to do is shut off the spigot. … From a Department of Defense perspective, there’s serious concern. I’d say they’re the people thinking about this issue most.”

But President-elect Joe Biden’s clean energy goals, combined with the car industry’s pivot to electric vehicles and federal lawmakers’ discussions over a stimulus package, might signal that the stars are aligning for new policies. “There’s going to be a heavy emphasis on building stuff in the U.S.,” Steinberg added.

“That’s the impetus of starting this coalition now.”