A doctoral student in engineering management at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Ona Egbue, is studying potential disruptions to the long-term supply chain for lithium.
A combination of high fuel costs, concerns about petroleum availability and air quality issues related to fossil fuel-based vehicles are driving interest in electric vehicles. However, there are issues associated with the present supply chain of raw materials for battery production, particularly the security and supply of lithium.—Ona Egbue
The US is a major importer of lithium. The majority of known lithium reserves are located in China, Chile, Argentina and Australia. Together these regions were also responsible for more than 90% of all lithium production in 2010, not including US production.
Due to political instability, there is a question of US access to materials produced in Bolivia, which holds the world’s largest lithium resource and has new production projects in the pipeline, she says.
In addition, the emergence of lithium as a strategic resource and the associated geopolitics is troubling, she says.
As China has demonstrated in recent years with rare-earth elements, a major raw material for nickel-metal hydride batteries, a country that supplies a resource can greatly affect the country that receives the resource. China, which controls more than 95 percent of global rare-earth elements supply, recently made a decision to restrict its export quota of this raw material, causing a significant increase in prices. This action by China highlights the risks of global dependence.—Ona Egbue
Egbue has developed a supply chain model for lithium that demonstrates the connection between supply and demand and provides a framework with which to investigate the technical, geopolitical and economic factors that could potentially impact the supply of lithium for electric vehicles. She is working on the research with her advisor, Dr. Suzanna Long, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering at Missouri S&T. Her findings are published in the Engineering Management Journal’s special issue on transportation management this month.