How the Taliban could slow California’s transition to electric vehicles

It is difficult to imagine that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan could have serious consequences for the ability of the United States to mass-produce electric vehicles in the years to come. But it absolutely is.

The Taliban now control Afghanistan’s vast lithium deposits, potentially worth up to $ 3 trillion. Lithium is the most critical element in the development of batteries used to power electric vehicles and other electronic devices.

The Biden administration is pushing hard for more renewable energy to power a growing fleet of electric vehicles and is advocating for billions of dollars to invest in charging infrastructure and consumption incentives. By 2040, electric vehicles are expected to account for 57% of global passenger car sales. California leads the way with 425,000 electric vehicles on the road, or 42% of the entire US fleet. And it’s not just ahead of passenger vehicles – FedEx is currently testing the use of 1,000 electric delivery trucks statewide. But the future growth of our electric vehicles requires a US plan to ensure that our reliance on foreign sources of battery material does not create unintended vulnerability to national security.

Lithium is already in limited supply and questions persist as to whether there will be enough to meet a ten-fold increase in demand expected by 2030. To complicate the situation, China controls much of global supply, as a producer and as a custodian of lithium supply, mainly in Africa. China is now expected to develop a new relationship with the Taliban in order to exploit Afghanistan’s lithium reserves.

These worrying trends underscore the need for a two-pronged approach to ensure long-term national availability of advanced batteries. First, the United States and businesses must aggressively seek to secure natural resources through smart partnerships with lithium-producing countries and companies.

More importantly, we also need to develop a sustainable closed-loop – “circular” – recycling system for advanced batteries in the United States to ensure that we recover and reuse their components to the greatest extent possible. Unfortunately, almost 500,000 tonnes of lithium batteries have already been thrown around the world as waste. We cannot afford to simply throw away the roughly 1.2 million tonnes that will be ready for recycling by 2030.

From initial mineral extraction, to design and manufacture, to lifelong use and recycling, the United States should move towards creating a national “battery economy” by owning or by controlling the cell and battery manufacturing process and not just being a final assembler of manufactured parts. somewhere else.

The good news is that a circular economy model for batteries already exists for lead-acid vehicle batteries, the most recycled consumer product on Earth. In North America and Europe, 99% of lead-acid vehicle batteries are already in closed-loop recycling systems, resulting in lower emissions, lower demand for new materials and lower product costs. But the same has not yet been achieved for lithium batteries, making current end-of-life options extremely limited.

The urgent need for a lithium battery recycling program will be evident as early as 2025. By 2040, approximately 403 million vehicle batteries will reach the end of their life. The United States must establish new strategic partnerships and develop a viable market system for recycling new technology batteries. Our industries and our national interest depend on it.

Steve Christensen is Executive Director of the Responsible Battery Coalition.

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