The United States has a lithium supply problem. Lithium-ion batteries are in everything we use — in phones, laptops, tablets, cameras and increasingly cars. Demand for lithium-ion batteries has risen sharply in the past five years and is expected to grow from a $44.2 billion market in 2020 to a $94.4 billion market by 2025.
This is largely due to the boom in electric cars. Nearly every major automaker has announced a transition to electric vehicles. Tesla delivered almost one million cars in 2021, and electric vehicle companies like Rivian and Lucid are rolling new models off the line. In order to power all of these EVs, we will need batteries, lots of them. Electric vehicle growth will be responsible for more than 90% of demand for lithium by 2030, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. This vital mineral in rechargeable batteries has earned the name “white gold” and the rush is on.
Former Tesla CTO and Elon Musk’s right-hand man, JB Straubel, started Redwood Materials in 2017 to help address the need for more raw materials and to solve the problem of e-waste. The company recycles end-of-life batteries and then supplies battery makers and auto companies with materials in short supply as EV production surges around the world. Straubel gave CNBC an inside look at its first recycling facility in Carson City, Nevada.
Cobalt also deserves a lot of attention because it is one of the most expensive materials found in lithium-ion batteries. Cobalt extraction is largely concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is linked to human rights abuses and child labor, while cobalt refinement is almost exclusively done in China, making cobalt part of a tenuous supply chain. These are some of the reasons why battery manufacturers like Samsung and Panasonic and car makers like Tesla and VW, along with a number of startups are working to eliminate cobalt from lithium-ion batteries completely.
00:00 — How Tesla’s Battery Mastermind Is Tackling EV’s Biggest Problem
18:31 — Why The U.S. Has A Massive Lithium Supply Problem
34:39 — How Removing Cobalt From Batteries Can Make EVs Cheaper
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Why The EV Industry Has A Massive Supply Problem