U.S. must develop raw materials for electric vehicles, solar panels
In recent years, Americans have become far more aware of China’s massive presence in the global economy. They’ve faced shortages of imports from China during the COVID pandemic — with stores running out of common, everyday goods. And they’ve seen global protests over China’s hosting of the Winter Olympics. Congress is now paying attention — and is finally starting to confront China’s predatory behavior.
The problem for Washington, however, is that ending the nation’s heavy reliance on China — and rebuilding America’s industrial base — won’t happen overnight. That’s doubly clear, now that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has weighed in with a new report regarding America’s deepening dependence on imported metals and minerals from China.
Here’s what the USGS is warning about. The United States now depends on imports for more than half of its entire supply of 47 different minerals used in a wide variety of manufacturing industries. Even worse, the U.S. is now 100 percent reliant on imports for 17 of these essential minerals. And most of them come from China.
China knows exactly how important these raw materials are since minerals are the building blocks for emerging technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs). Beijing has smartly made itself the leading supplier to the United States for 16 of these critically needed minerals — including the rare earth metals necessary for not just EVs but also solar panels and wind turbines.
These renewable energy technologies will require a massive increase in mineral supplies in order to meet global demand. The International Energy Agency expects that demand for minerals like lithium — which is used in electric vehicles and batteries — will grow more than 40 times in the next 20 years. But like so many other minerals, China has a stranglehold on lithium production and supplies.
America’s investments in new EV plants and battery manufacturing facilities are intended to launch a made-in-America renaissance. But China’s control over key materials gives Beijing considerable geopolitical leverage — and also threatens the viability of this effort.
Demand may be soaring for the minerals needed in the EV revolution, but there simply might not be enough to go around. One recent analysis found that, by 2030, automakers could be unable to fill as many as 35 million EV orders in a timely fashion simply due to a lack of battery materials.
Beijing can easily exploit such an opportunity — and make sure that Chinese automakers get the materials they need while U.S. producers are left dangling in the wind. That would imperil the future of America’s auto industry and the jobs it supports.
This tells us that “Made in America” will be meaningless unless it’s also “Mined in America.”
Washington must act decisively to break America’s reliance on China’s supply chains. That means starting with the foundation — mining and mineral processing. The U.S. possesses vast mineral resources here at home. It’s past time to rebuild America’s mining industry and reestablish secure, domestic supply chains in order to support a competitive, future American industrial base.
Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a nonprofit bipartisan coalition of farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and labor organizations that make and grow things in the United States. For more information, visit https://prosperousamerica.org. Follow Stumo on Twitter at @ michael_stumo