We learned last month that the world is rapidly heading toward a catastrophic 1.5-degree Celsius global warming within 5 years, according to an analysis by the World Meteorological Organization. That means the United States is in a race against time – and its geopolitical rivals – to secure a stable and environmentally sustainable supply chain to build out clean energy technologies and all of their necessary components, most importantly critical minerals such as lithium.
A WARMING CLIMATE
North America is already experiencing the immediate effects of a warmer climate. The tragic out-of-control wildfires in Canada haven’t just caused air quality alerts from Boston to Baltimore. They’ve disrupted power for hundreds of thousands of Canadians over the last 3 weeks. More than two weeks after Typhoon Mawar left the island of Guam in the dark, nearly half the island is still waiting for its electricity to be restored. The changing climate is bringing more frequent and powerful weather events that show just how fragile current power supply grids are.
Violent storms and hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, rising seas, extreme heat waves, and deep freezes in places that have never experienced such events are becoming common. Just ask the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in “random” California wildfires within the past few years. And now, some insurers are limiting insurance coverage in California. None of this is chance. We must invest immediately and more robustly in efforts that will make our energy grids more resilient.
Lithium is a critical material in the fight to reduce global temperatures. The batteries produced from lithium can boost electric grid storage capacity, power electric vehicles now, and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which emit carbon into the atmosphere, the main reason global temperatures are rising. And with the proper mining techniques, producing those batteries can be more environmentally sustainable and would lessen their already lower carbon footprint.
The Biden Administration has made significant investments into lithium supply chains, but regulation and a lack of overall infrastructure are slowing domestic lithium production development in the U.S. To reach our carbon reduction goals, and skyrocketing demand for lithium, it is crucial for the government to partner with private industry. Time is of the essence.
One way we can expedite sustainable lithium supply chains is with technology such as Direct Lithium Extraction (DLE). This technology allows lithium to be extracted from brine–salt water–providing the lithium resources we need to transition to cleaner energy while producing a sustainable and precious byproduct – cleaner water.
What was once science fiction is now science fact. Major lithium producers SQM and Albemarle are looking to implement DLE into their operations in Chile, while projects in the United Kingdom and France are actively being developed. EnergyX has demonstrated how efficient and environmentally sustainable DLE can be.
WORKING WITH PARTNERS
The transportation sector is the largest and fastest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government has provided incentives resulting in the rapid deployment of electric vehicles. What’s more, companies can help ensure the U.S. government can secure domestic supplies of lithium that are necessary to carry out the Administration’s electrification goals.
However, the simple fact is that today the US has essentially zero domestic lithium production, while China controls more than half of the global lithium supply. The U.S. must invest with our existing free trade partners such as Chile, and further partner and provide much-needed support and investments to countries such as Argentina and Bolivia—making them trade partners—to help build out the battery supply chain throughout the entire “Americas.” With an energy revolution fast approaching, the U.S. cannot afford to be left behind, especially within our hemisphere.
Today, we are at a crucial inflection point. It is a moment of decision: either we will make the modest, necessary investments, both domestically and abroad, in lithium extraction and the battery material supply chain to secure our energy independence for coming years…or we, our children, and future generations that follow will pay a much higher price for our failure to act decisively.
To ignore investments in areas such as lithium-rich Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina will undoubtedly create a scenario in which the US finds itself yet again dependent on China for decades to come.
Too much is at stake. The time to make these investments is now.