Bob Galyen has spent his career building electric car batteries. And he thinks the United States has a problem.
Galyen, who engineered the battery for the General Motors EV1, the first mass-produced electric vehicle, and also served as chief technology officer at a Chinese company that's the top battery producer in the world, isn't the only one. Elected officials, automakers and customers in the US are all excited about the possibility of electric cars, and those cars will be key to the US meeting its climate goals.Simply building and selling electric cars, or providing subsidies for the people who make and buy them, isn't enough. Electric cars need batteries the same way combustion cars need fuel -- and the metal in those batteries can be just as precious and hard to get as gas. People like Galyen are worried the US simply isn't ready for that switchover, or doing enough to get ready.The United States sources about 90% of the lithium it uses from Argentina and Chile, and contributes less than 1% of global production of nickel and cobalt, according to the Department of Energy. China refines 60% of the world's lithium and 80% of the cobalt. Those metals are critical for electric vehicles.
Historically, there have been examples of the "resource curse," in which natural resource wealth contributes to negative impacts for countries, including corruption, violence and durable authoritarian regimes. Decades of US policy in the Middle East, for example, with its attendant support for dictatorships and warfare, have been argued to be largely motivated by abundant petroleum supplies in the region."Resource curse" concerns in this case could be most pertinent to Bolivia, which has a wealth of lithium reserves and has weaker political institutions than other battery-metal rich countries like Australia and Chile, according to Emily Kilcrease, a senior fellow in energy, economics and security at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think-tank."
I might argue that Chinese investments into lithium mines are a bigger threat to U.S. raw material supply chains, rather than political instability," Kilcrease said.
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