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DOE issues RFI to strengthen battery critical materials supply chains

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) announced a request for information (RFI) (DOE-FOA-0002358) on challenges and opportunities in the upstream and midstream critical-materials battery supply chains.

In this RFI, DOE specifically seeks input on the current state of the battery cathode materials supply chains, as well as opportunities for near-term and long-term research and development (R&D). EERE is specifically interested in information on raw minerals production and refining and processing of cathode materials including cobalt, lithium, and nickel.


Bottleneck in the battery critical materials supply chain between upstream raw materials production and refining and midstream material processing and component fabrication. Source: DOE

There is limited domestic production of Co and Li in the upstream supply chain. In 2019, the US produced an estimated 500 metric tons of Co from a nickel-copper mine in Michigan and mine tailings in Missouri (less than 1% of global mine production), plus an additional 2,700 metric tons in secondary production (recycled materials, post-industrial, and post-consumer materials). Li can be extracted from brines or hard rock, and the US has significant resource potential. There are 6.8 million metric tons of Li identified resources from continental brines, geothermal brines, hectorite, oilfield brines, and pegmatites. The only domestic Li primary production in 2019 was from continental brine extraction. Ni is produced both as a primary product from mining and as a byproduct from refining operations. In 2019, the US produced 14,000 metric tons of Ni concentrates from mining (less than 1% of global mine production).

The ability for US manufacturers to process powders and fabricate cathodes in the midstream supply chain for these critical materials is constrained in part by the lack of domestic raw material production and refining. In 2019, the US was more than 50% import-reliant for supply of Co, more than 25% import-reliant for supply of Li, and more than 57% import-reliant for supply of Ni.

Refinement of materials—both critical and not—for battery cathode fabrication generally flow through China. In 2019, 64% of the world’s Co mine production was supplied by the Democratic Republic of Congo, with most of the processing occurring in China. Some processing of Li from brine extraction into precursors (Li2CO3 and LiOH) for cathode fabrication does occur in the US, but the production of cathode powders is dominated by foreign markets.


Responses to the RFI will inform the agenda of the R&D Battery Critical Materials Supply Chain Workshop—tentatively planned for this fall—and the development of the R&D roadmap for the Federal Strategy.

This RFI also supports DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which draws on the extensive research capabilities of the DOE National Laboratories, universities, and industry to accelerate the development of energy-storage technologies and sustain American global leadership in the energy storage technologies of the future.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, in collaboration with the Geothermal Technologies Office and Vehicle Technologies Office, issued this RFI. Responses must be submitted no later than 5:00 p.m. ET on 31 July 2020.


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