The US Department of Energy is letting loose with a new round of $2.91 billion in funding for a soup-to-nuts overhaul of the lithium supply chain for EV batteries and other energy storage systems, and not just because it wants to help save the planet from catastrophic climate change. As directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the cash infusion is intended to strengthen the US national security profile, among other things.
$2.91 Billion More For EV Batteries & Other Energy Storage Systems
The Energy Department has already cast considerable dollars upon the waters of energy storage in general and EV batteries in particular over the past 20 years. The new round of funding is a bit different. It takes a holistic approach to lithium and other critical materials that factor into the supply chain for EV batteries and other energy storage systems.
The $2.91 billion is earmarked for two forthcoming notices of funding intent, which together will cover everything from materials refining and production to the manufacturing of EV batteries and other systems, on through to recycling facilities.
“As directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, DOE is leading the buildout of a resilient battery supply chain for electric vehicles and energy storage,” DOE explains. adding that the two funding opportunities “will ensure that the United States can produce batteries, and has facilities that can produce, recover, and reclaim critical battery materials, while increasing economic competitiveness, energy independence, and national security.”
EV Batteries & The Lithium Supply Chain
When the topic is lithium supply, thoughts naturally turn to the fact that the US has ample lithium reserves in various forms, and has yet to exploit them in any way that could address the exponential increase in global demand for lithium.
That’s going to be a problem for auto makers in particular, as the demand for EVs — and EV batteries — keeps growing.
“With the global lithium-ion battery market expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, DOE is making it possible for the United States to be prepared for market demand,” DOE explains. “Domestically sourcing the critical materials used to make lithium-ion batteries—such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite—will close the gap in supply chain disruptions and accelerate battery production in America.
Part of the problem is that lithium extraction is invasive and destructive, whether that involves digging it up from the ground or extracting it from various brine sources.
When those notices of intent go out, look for DOE to focus like a laser on recycling for EV batteries and other energy systems as one solution.
CleanTechnica has also been keeping an eye on new geothermal brine extraction methods that don’t require the huge evaporation lagoons needed for conventional systems. One such facility is up and running at a Phase 1 level in California and is expected to start delivering lithium in 2024.
The National Blueprint For Lithium Batteries
The recycling angle and other elements in the notices of intent are aligned with a document titled The National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, which was produced last year by the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries, which consists of the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and State, along with the DOE. That’s where the national security angle kicks in, so let’s take a look back at the Blueprint.
The Blueprint describes 5 goals and actions aimed at developing the domestic lithium battery supply chain in concert with job creation and climate change mitigation.
From a national security perspective, the Blueprint explains that “the Defense Department (DoD) requires reliable, secure, and advanced energy storage technologies to support critical missions carried out by joint forces, contingency bases, and at military installations.”
“Faced with increasing kinetic and non-kinetic threats, the Department is shifting toward more distributed, austere, and autonomous operational concepts carried out by platforms and installations with escalating power requirements.”
By that they mean increasing the use of renewable energy and microgrids, including microgrid systems that can be transported and operated on-the-go, as well as stationary systems for permanent facilities.
Considering that energy storage is the key to unlocking the full potential of wind and solar power, it’s no wonder that the DOD is zeroing in on domestically sourced lithium and the whole battery supply chain.
EV Batteries Are Just The Beginning
EV batteries catch a lot of media attention, but they are not the only concern of the DOD. Portable energy storage for soldiers on foot has been an ongoing issue, considering the amount of electronic gear used by a modern Army.
“The military requires thousands of unique types of batteries each year resulting in over $200 million in annual procurements from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). In addition, this data accounts for only a portion of overall annual demand from across DoD, which includes numerous program-specific procurements across each of the services,” the DOD observes.
That includes weapons systems, sensors and other platforms in addition to batteries carried by individuals, all of which need to operate reliably in extreme conditions. The DOD also foresees the growth in tactical microgrids and hybridized platforms, which circles back around to the question of EV batteries.
The DOD has been wary of electric vehicles so far, but that is about to change, as the Blueprint suggests. A new analysis indicates there is room for hybrid electric vehicles in a plan for achieving a 30% cut in fuel consumption by the US Army, for example.
In another positive sign for EV fans, the Defense Authorization Act included a provision in support of the Army’s Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicles program.
More EV Batteries For The US Postal Service, Too
Speaking of EV batteries that can withstand extreme conditions, the US Postal Service is known for delivering the mail through snow, rain, heat, gloom of night, and it has also been dipping a toe in the EV pool — sort of.
US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been taking a lot of heat this past year, for signing on to a new contract for up to 165,000 new mail delivery vehicles, with only a small sliver reserved for electric vehicles.
Not to worry. Between the US Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, it looks like the USPS could be getting more electric trucks than it bargained for, equipped with EV batteries that can withstand extreme conditions.
The winner of the new USPS contract is the longtime defense contractor Oshkosh Defense, which has been carving out a name for itself in the hybrid electric truck field, focusing on fire trucks and other specialty vehicles.
Oshkosh introduced a hybrid electric tactical vehicle concept for the US Amy and Marine Corps earlier this year, and the company has indicated that its concept for USPS is a multi-fuel platform that could accommodate a more generous focus on fleet electrification.
Keep an eye on those policymakers in Congress for more on the USPS situation. Meanwhile, just a reminder that EV batteries are not the only focus of the Energy Department’s new $2.91 billion payout. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law accommodates a total of $7 billion to strengthen the battery supply chain across the board, so stay tuned for more on that.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for US Department of Defense courtesy of Oshkosh Defense.
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