Changing consumer preferences and government policies point toward widespread future adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Advanced lithium batteries are the primary power source for EVs. Unfortunately, China dominates today’s battery supply chain, from the extraction and processing of critical minerals like lithium to the production, packaging, and recycling of battery cells. In today’s era of great power competition, control of the supply chains for advanced technologies such as lithium batteries will have a direct impact on national power.
Advanced battery technology will go a long way toward determining economic leadership in the EV market. The automobile industry is one of America’s largest manufacturing sectors and accounts for some 3% of US GDP. But EVs and advanced batteries also have important military applications. EVs will function as mobile energy nodes on the battlefield, providing power for unmanned systems, communication links, electromagnetic warfare systems and more. These capabilities will help the US military conduct more decentralized operations in contested regions.
Beijing long ago predicted the strategic shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and, in response, has spent years tightening its grip on the supply chains for this critical technology. If the United States desires to grow its EV industry, and fully capitalize on the military capabilities that batteries offer, policymakers must develop a national battery strategy that:
- Makes and encourages investments in mining, processing, battery production, and recycling. Given the strategic importance of batteries and their inputs, government support is necessary to build a robust American battery industry. Policymakers should leverage diplomatic and economic tools to work with friendly countries to ensure a sustained source of critical minerals, plus offer incentives for domestic mining and processing firms, cathode and anode manufacturers, and battery producers.
- Drives innovation in mineral substitutes, next-generation battery technologies, and manufacturing methods to minimize supply chain vulnerabilities and leapfrog Chinese suppliers. The US must develop alternate battery chemistries to substitute for costly or scarce minerals, boost R&D for next-generation battery technologies, and increase funding for improved manufacturing techniques for lithium-ion batteries.
- Uses DOD tools to strengthen the supply chain for military batteries, with a goal of putting new capabilities in the field. DOD must employ its policy tools to secure the supply chain for military-grade batteries, which are built to more extreme specifications than commercial versions.
- Invests in workforce development and talent programs across the supply chain. The US should cultivate domestic battery talent by investing in educational opportunities, supplemented by foreign expertise where necessary.