Rare earth minerals and other battery materials are crucial for global politics. As this article explains, China’s power over the worlds clean technology advancements and medical progress came to a head in 2010 when it cut off supplies to Japan. This ultimately left Japan defenseless, and with no choice but to cave on the border dispute. This prompted Japan to go along a different path pursuing clean technology, and could explain why Japanese automakers are choosing to stick with hydrogen technology while the majority of the world is betting on battery-electric vehicles (BEVs, or “full EVs”).
In addition to the geopolitical problems are the issues with US subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs). If a vehicle is to qualify for tax credits and rebates, its battery must come from minerals that aren’t found in countries that the current US administration doesn’t trust — specifically China. This might result in more plug-in hybrids (PHEV) being built instead of all-electric vehicles (BEV), but it depends largely on how many BEVs can be created with batteries sourced from friendly countries.
While I’m personally a fan of PHEVs because they might help solve mineral supply crunches and keep democratic countries from depending on China for them, I know that most readers (not to mention the higher editors here) prefer BEVs. Fortunately, the good news is starting to stack up for you all.
A growing number of battery manufacturers and automotive companies are adapting, and turning to friendly countries to take care of needed EV mineral supplies. Let’s recap some of these recent battery mineral deals:
In August, VW group struck a deal that showed how quick they were on the draw after US subsidies changed. After coming to an agreement, Volkswagen Group and the Canadian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). According to the MoU, both parties will investigate options for Canada’s role in Volkswagen’s international and regional battery supply chains. PowerCo is responsible for managing aspects such as battery value creation, raw materials supply chains, and cathode material production in North America — to name a few — and has been playing an integral part up until this point with planned proceedings underway.
The goal is to rapidly establish highly standardized cell production capacities of 240 gigawatts per year in Europe alone. In addition, a specialized gigafactory will be built in North America. Sites are being investigated for possible manufacturing locations.
“I welcome that Volkswagen and Canada have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on battery value creation today,” said Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, at the time. “This is excellent proof that the cooperation with our close friends and allies in Canada is further deepening also in the context of raw material security and may encourage other companies to follow.”
In October, Stellantis and GME Resources Limited announced their agreement to sell battery-grade nickel and cobalt sulphate products from the NiWest Nickel-Cobalt Project in Western Australia. This is positive news for countries that rely on these resources as they can be confident that Australia will not use them as leverage to extract geopolitical concessions.
Around the same time, GM struck a similar deal with Queensland Pacific Metals of Australia. As part of the agreement, GM is expected to invest up to $69 million in Queensland Pacific Metals for the development of its proposed Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub (TECH) Project located Northern Australia. The hub will process nickel laterite ore using a proprietary waste-reducing process that eliminates the need for a tailings dam.
Another Deal Announced
Now, there’s a yet another deal for Canadian minerals, this time with Panasonic.
Panasonic Energy Co., Ltd. today announced it has signed an MOU with integrated graphite producer Nouveau Monde Graphite Inc (NMG) to establish a supply chain in North America for graphite, used as an anode active material in lithium-ion batteries. The two companies will collaborate with Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (“Mitsui”; Tokyo, Japan) in order to streamline a feasibility study for the potential development of an integrated graphite production business in North America. The goal is to conclude an offtake agreement by March 2023.
As more and more people switch to electric vehicles (EVs), Panasonic Energy is working to ramp up production of EV batteries in the United States. This increase in demand will require an increase in localized sourcing of materials, and the establishment of a sustainable supply chain. In order to jointly promote integrated “mine-to-battery-materials” business development in North America, Panasonic Energy and NMG have entered into a strategic partnership with Mitsui. This will involve the refining of graphite mined at NMG’s Matawinie Mine (Quebec) and anode active materials produced at its battery materials plant in Bécancour, Quebec. As part of the feasibility study, NMG will develop production facilities and material samples which Panasonic Energy will then evaluate.
Panasonic Energy believes that it has established a great bond with the Canadian government when it comes to comprehending how critical it is to deliver sustainability. The company knows that both the federal and provincial governments are supportive of renewable energy sources and efficient companies, so Panasonic wants to help out as much as possible.
NMG’s low environmental impact graphite is a major step toward their goal of halving its carbon footprint by FY2031. Sourcing materials for battery production in the US from Canada will also shorten supply chain distances and significantly reduce CO2 emissions in the logistics process.
Panasonic believes that its excellent technology and rich experience in battery development and production will spur on the growth of the lithium-ion battery industry. Its strong partnership with NMG is a corporate effort to achieve zero emissions, which will ultimately bring it closer to achieving a balance between happiness and sustainability.
The Naysayers Might Be Wrong
While it’s tough to know what the final mineral yields will be from these Canadian and Australian deals (they’re only at the MOU stage right now), it does show that automakers and battery companies are answering the call for more minerals from geopolitically safe sources. Limiting US tax credits to those using raw battery materials from friendly countries sounded like a disaster earlier this year, but the industry might just pull it off and leave us all in a better place.
Featured image provided by Panasonic.
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