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Biden’s battery bet may boost domestic lithium, rare earth sourcing

Cons. Discr. - Autos 959 Elections 106 Materials - Metals/Mining 637 U.S. 4649

The election campaign of former Vice President Biden has indicated to U.S. mining firms that a Biden administration would support increased exploration to ensure domestic sourcing of minerals critical to electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines, Reuters reports.

Metals supported could include copper, lithium, nickel, rare earths among others. Such a move would help implement the wider onshoring of critical supply chains that has characterized both the Biden and Trump campaigns’ commitments. It also follows the issuance of an Executive Order by the Trump administration aiming to ensure sourcing of critical minerals.

As discussed in Panjiva’s research of Oct. 21, automaker Tesla has already started to outline plans to bring sourcing of lithium back to the U.S. though hasn’t detailed when it plans to do so or the costs involved.

Panjiva’s data shows that U.S. imports of batteries for electric vehicles, lithium, rare earths / magnets and cobalt dropped by 26.2% year over year in the 12 months to Aug. 31. The downturn has been led by a 39.0% drop in electric vehicle battery imports which can partly be blamed on a Q2’20 slump related to industrial closures linked to the COVID-19. Those have since recovered with a 16.9% year over year, likely reflecting the acceleration in activity in the automotive industry after a surge in demand.

Imports of raw materials remain depressed. Shipments of cobalt are down by 21.8% year over year in the past 12 months and by 31.1% in August alone while imports of lithium and rare earths fell by 15.7% and 17.3% respectively in the past 12 months.

Electric vehicle mineral sourcing in decline

Chart compares U.S. imports of selected critical minerals and products.   Source: Panjiva

As well as securing supplies of raw materials it’s likely that support will be extended to domestic production of batteries, as is already being done by Tesla, for electric vehicles, utility- and residential-grade storage as well as consumer electronics applications. Similarly the construction of rare earth magnets could be brought onshore if the raw materials were more readily available.

Panjiva’s U.S. seaborne import data shows that imports of lithium ion batteries and rare earth magnets climbed 14.0% higher than a year earlier in Q3. Shipments linked to Panasonic, a supplier to Tesla, increased by a more modest 7.2% for Q3 but had begun to decline in September with a 6.5% dip.

LG Chem meanwhile, a supplier to GM as well as Tesla, has seen a surge in shipments of 54.3% year over year in Q3. Among consumer electronics focused firms, shipments linked to Samsung SDI related shipments jumped 166% higher. 

LG Chem, Samsung SDI lead U.S. battery import boom

Chart segments U.S. seaborne imports of electric vehicle batteries by shipper on a monthly and three-month average basis.   Source: Panjiva

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