Biden issues battery materials order
Invokes Defense Production Act for clean energy ingredients Metal Tech News - April 1, 2022
Last updated 4/16/2023 at 7:08am
With mass production of batteries that store intermittent renewable energy and power electric vehicles being a vital component of the envisioned clean energy future, the Biden administration has authorized use of the Defense Production Act to bolster American supplies of these critical battery minerals and materials.
"Specifically, the DPA will be authorized to support the production and processing of minerals and materials used for large capacity batteries – such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese – and the Department of Defense will implement this authority using strong environmental, labor, community, and tribal consultation standards," the White House penned in a March 31 briefing.
Established in 1950 as a tool to ensure the United States could secure goods needed for national security during the Cold War, DPA allows American presidents, largely through executive order, to direct private companies to prioritize orders from the federal government.
In 2019, President Trump used presidential powers under DPA Title III to authorize the Pentagon to pursue the reestablishment of a mines-to-magnets rare earths supply chain in the U.S., and President Biden invoked the Cold War-era act to speed the production of vaccines and other supplies needed to battle COVID-19.
Biden's latest use of DPA aims to help "secure American production of critical materials to bolster our clean energy economy by reducing our reliance on China and other countries for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future," according to the White House briefing.
This announcement comes just three weeks after a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter urging the President to utilize the power of the pen provided to him under DPA to accelerate domestic production of lithium-ion battery materials, in particular graphite, manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium.
"The authorities provided to you as President under the Defense Production Act will help to ensure that America's critical mineral supply chains are strong, responsibly produced, and ethically sourced. Given the stakes, America cannot afford to wait any longer for that day to arrive," they wrote.
The senators' sense of urgency is being driven by America's dependence on often rival nations for a wide array of critical minerals and metals.
According to a January report by the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. was dependent on imports for more than half its supply of 47 nonfuel mineral commodities and 100% import-reliant for 17 of those during 2021.
"The concentration of where that supply comes from makes our foreign dependence even more concerning," the senators penned in their letter. "China dominates the international critical mineral supply chain, presenting a dire national security threat for the United States, and harsh economic realities for American manufacturers."
More information on the senators' letter and a separate paper urging domestic critical minerals mining can be read at Biden urged to support domestic mining in the March 16, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.
President Biden echoed the senators' concerns in a March 31 memorandum to the Pentagon invoking DPA for critical and strategic minerals.
"The United States depends on unreliable foreign sources for many of the strategic and critical materials necessary for the clean energy transition - such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese for large-capacity batteries. Demand for such materials is projected to increase exponentially as the world transitions to a clean energy economy," he penned in the memorandum.
The memo orders the Pentagon to utilize the estimated $750 million of available Defense Production Act Title III funding to establish and expand upon sustainable and responsible domestic strategic and critical minerals production.
To meet America's needs for these highly sought after strategic and critical minerals, President Biden is ordering the Pentagon to utilize DPA funding and authorizations to support:
• Feasibility studies for mature mining, beneficiation, and value-added processing projects.
• Byproduct and coproduct production of these materials at existing mining, mine waste reclamation, and other industrial facilities.
• Modernization of mining, beneficiation, and value-added processes to increase productivity, environmental sustainability, and workforce safety.
Unions and mining companies came out in support of the President's use of DPA Title III funding and authorizations for critical battery metals.
United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway said union members across North America already produce many of these materials and stand ready to further "mine, produce and recycle lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, graphite and other critical minerals as we build out and secure our own domestic supply chains."
Talon Metals Corp., which recently cut a deal to supply Tesla Inc. nickel from a future mine at its Tamarack project in Minnesota, said the presidential action offers new tools and support for domestic production of vital battery materials.
"Building on the funding for EV battery material processing and recycling that Congress included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, this action opens significant support for mining operations, in addition to down-stream processing and battery recycling," said Talon Metals CEO Henri van Rooyen.
Some environmental groups, however, were quick to oppose the use of DPA Title III funds in support of mining.
"The clean energy transition cannot be built on dirty mining," said Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel.
"The government should use its purchasing power to maximize reuse of recycled content and build a circular materials economy," she added.
Recycling alone, however, will only meet a small portion of the expected battery materials demand until the first generations of EVs begin being cycled back into the circular economy.
The International Energy Agency forecasts a 30-fold increase in demand over 2020 levels for battery minerals and metals.
"Today, the data shows a looming mismatch between the world's strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals that are essential to realising those ambitions," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said when "The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions" report was released. "The challenges are not insurmountable, but governments must give clear signals about how they plan to turn their climate pledges into action."
With the invocation of DPA Title III, the White House sends a signal of support for domestic production of the materials needed for its envisioned clean energy future.