The United States has exciting potential to become an innovative global leader in battery manufacturing. But critical challenges need to be addressed before that potential can be realized.
That was a key takeaway of Bridging the Gap, a recent two-day workshop hosted by Li-Bridge to examine opportunities and challenges across the battery supply chain. Li-Bridge is a public-private alliance coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. The workshop explored how collaboration between industry and federal agencies can help establish a robust domestic battery industry.
“I was impressed by the variety of innovative ideas being pursued across the supply chain. If we can bring all these ideas to fruition, we can develop a competitive industry in the U.S. We can also have materials, technologies and manufacturing methods that are superior to what the rest of the world is pursuing.” — Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science
Can the U.S. Make Enough Batteries for the Clean Energy Transition?
Over the last year, several forces have aligned to build momentum behind the clean energy transition. There are federal level targets to achieve carbon-free electricity by 2035 and economy-wide, net-zero emissions by 2050. Companies across the nation have responded by making significant clean energy investments.
A successful transition relies heavily on massive deployment of battery energy storage. This can enable widespread electric vehicle adoption as well as an electric grid powered by intermittent renewable energy.
However, the domestic industry is not equipped for this deployment. According to a battery supply chain assessment by DOE in 2021, the nation has key vulnerabilities in raw material production and processing, minimal global market share in component and cell manufacturing, and a lack of battery recycling. In parallel, a consortium of federal agencies released the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, 2021–2030. The blueprint outlines a holistic set of goals to address these weaknesses and secure the nation’s long-term global competitiveness.
The objective of the Bridging the Gap workshop was to build the knowledge base needed for the rapid scale-up of energy storage.
“The market for batteries is expected to grow by a factor of 20 to 30 over the next decade,” said Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) and one of the workshop’s organizers.
“This rapid trajectory comes with the challenge of how to implement it on the ground. Can you find the people to work in the factories that churn out these devices? Can you get all the raw materials that go into these factories to build those devices? Do you have a secure supply of those materials? These were some of the questions we looked at in this workshop.”
About half of the nearly 800 attendees were from industry. They included metal mining and processing companies, battery component, cell and pack manufacturers, recyclers and companies in the automotive and grid sectors. The other half included government stakeholders, workforce development organizations and researchers at national laboratories and universities.
Many Innovative Ideas, Many Challenges
The workshop featured presentations from more than 90 industry members. Speakers covered the full supply chain from raw materials extraction to recycling. They discussed their technology advances, production plans and challenges.
“I was impressed by the variety of innovative ideas being pursued across the supply chain,” said Srinivasan. “If we can bring all these ideas to fruition, we can develop a competitive industry in the U.S. We can also have materials, technologies and manufacturing methods that are superior to what the rest of the world is pursuing.”
Attendee polls revealed that workforce development is a critical challenge. There is a lack of mine and factory workers, experts with Ph.D.s, process engineers, technicians and many other types of workers. Thousands of people will need to be trained to enable large market growth. One promising idea discussed in the workshop was to develop vocational curricula that can be replicated at community colleges across the nation. Potential educational formats include online lectures and in-person training at companies.
Two days after the workshop, DOE announced that it is investing $5 million in training programs for battery manufacturing. The aim of the initiative is to bring together manufacturers, organized labor and training providers to develop a national workforce strategy.
Workshop attendees pointed to other obstacles to expanding domestic production. These included lack of access to suppliers, lack of financing and permitting delays.
Notably, there were three times as many industry presentations about manufacturing and recycling as there were presentations about upstream materials processing. This disparity suggests that materials processing is a particularly weak area in the supply chain.
Discussions identified several priorities for ensuring a secure supply of materials. These included increasing the number of domestic mining and refining companies and developing a national recycling strategy. Other priorities were diversifying the materials used in production and forming partnerships with other countries.
“If you increase the number of partnerships you have across the world, you’re not dependent on any one source,” said Srinivasan.
A significant development with supply partnerships occurred the day before the workshop. Li-Bridge and the European Battery Alliance launched a collaboration to support robust raw material supplies for batteries.
As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress last year, DOE is providing nearly $3 billion over the next several months. The funds are for pilot- and commercial-scale facilities that produce battery materials, components, cells and packs. The funds also can be used for battery recycling. This is the first funding phase for the $6 billion allocated under the law to bolster the domestic battery industry.
Insights from this workshop will be available to DOE as it considers how to implement its strategy for this and other funding in the future. The workshop is also available to the public online.
The workshop’s knowledge base will serve as the starting point for Li-Bridge to organize a series of deeper-dive workshops over the next six months. Results of the series will form the basis of recommendations on a long-term competitiveness strategy that Li-Bridge will submit to DOE.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the way we generate and use energy,” said Srinivasan. “This workshop was all about how to enable this historic transition.”
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.