Description This RFI pertains to a Research & Development (R&D) Battery Critical Materials Supply Chain Workshop planned to be hosted by the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE), Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) and Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO).
Critical materials are used in many products important to the U.S. economy and national security. Of the 35 mineral commodities identified as critical in the list1 published in the Federal Register by the Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. is 100% net import reliant for 142 and is more than 50% import-reliant for 17 of the remaining 21 mineral commodities.3 This import dependence is a problem when it puts supply chains, U.S. companies, and material users at risk.4 To reduce the nation’s vulnerability to disruptions in the supply of critical minerals, the President issued Executive Order (EO) 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.
The EO directs the Secretary of Commerce, in coordination with heads of selected executive branch agencies and offices, to submit a report to the President that includes:
I. a strategy to reduce the Nation’s reliance on critical minerals;
II. an assessment of progress toward developing critical minerals recycling and reprocessing technologies, and technological alternatives to critical minerals;
III. options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners;
IV. a plan to improve the topographic, geologic, and geophysical mapping of the United States and make the resulting data and metadata electronically accessible, to the extent permitted by law and subject to appropriate limitations for purposes of privacy and security, to support private sector mineral exploration of critical minerals; and
V. recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes related to developing leases; enhancing access to critical mineral resources; and increasing discovery, production, and domestic refining of critical minerals.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) subsequently published the report to the President on June 4, 2019.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) assesses material criticality based on importance to a range of energy technologies and the potential for supply risk. To mitigate risk for supply chain disruption, DOE coordinates research and development (R&D) around three pillars: 1. Diversifying supply of critical materials – including domestic production and processing; 2. Developing substitutes; and 3. Driving recycling, reuse, and more efficient use. The National Science & Technology Council (NSTC) Critical Minerals Subcommittee (CMS) is the interagency body that will coordinate implementation of the Federal Strategy. An organizing principle of this strategy is to address the full supply chain of critical minerals, which spans from securement of raw materials to end-uses in both civilian and defense applications. The strategy is organized around six Calls to Action, supported by 24 goals with corresponding specific agency level recommendations that will be pursued over the next five years. DOE is the lead for Call to Action 1 of the Federal Strategy: “Advance Transformational Research, Development and Deployment across Critical Mineral Supply Chains.” In coordination with broad Federal agency input,7 DOE will lead the development of a roadmap that identifies key R&D needs and coordinates on-going activities for source diversification, more efficient use, recycling, and substitution for critical minerals; as well as cross-cutting mining science, data science techniques, materials science, manufacturing science and engineering, computational modeling, and environmental health and safety R&D.
Critical materials used in the fabrication of cathodes for lithium-ion batteries include cobalt (Co), lithium (Li), and manganese (Mn). Nickel (Ni) is also a material used in cathode fabrication, and while not included on the list of critical mineral commodities published by the Secretary of Interior, industry has expressed concern about the ability of the market to meet demand in the future due to the high purities required for cathode production.
There is limited domestic production of Co and Li in the upstream supply chain. In 2019, the U.S. produced an estimated 500 metric tons of Co from a nickel-copper mine in Michigan and mine tailings in Missouri (less than 1% of global mine production), plus an additional 2,700 metric tons in secondary production (recycled materials, post-industrial, and post-consumer materials). Li can be extracted from brines8 or hard rock, and the U.S. has significant resource potential. There are 6.8 million metric tons of Li identified resources from continental brines, geothermal brines, hectorite, oilfield brines, and pegmatites. The only domestic Li primary production in 2019 was from continental brine extraction. Ni is produced both as a primary product from mining and as a byproduct from refining operations. In 2019, the U.S. produced 14,000 metric tons of Ni concentrates from mining (less than 1% of global mine production). These concentrates are exported for smelting.
The ability for U.S. manufacturers to process powders and fabricate cathodes in the midstream supply chain for these critical materials is constrained in part by the lack of domestic raw material production and refining (Figure 1). In 2019, the U.S. was more than 50% import-reliant for supply of Co, more than 25% import-reliant for supply of Li, and more than 57% importreliant for supply of Ni.4 Refinement of materials – both critical and not – for battery cathode fabrication generally flow through China. In 2019, 64% of the world’s Co mine production was supplied by the Democratic Republic of Congo, with most of the processing occurring in China. Some processing of Li from brine extraction into precursors (Li2CO3 and LiOH) for cathode fabrication does occur in the U.S., but the production of cathode powders is dominated by foreign markets.