Argonne-led report lays out steps on how the U.S. can produce its own EV batteries

Li-Bridge, a public-private alliance led by Argonne National Laboratory in DuPage County and convened by the U.S. Department of Energy, has released a report outlining steps toward creating a more robust domestic manufacturing base and supply chain for lithium-based batteries.

The strategic plan, created out of forums and market analysis with Li-Bridge's 40 companies, includes 26 recommendations to bolster the domestic lithium battery industry. The report tackles what Argonne scientist Venkat Srinivasan said is a critical challenge in transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to an electric one.

“That's the mandate. Everything is going to be electricity-driven to some extent,” said Srinivasan, the director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science. “Technology's changing. These really tectonic shifts happen probably once in 100 years — that's what we're seeing right now, and it's happening fairly rapidly. We have, I think, a real challenge in the country, which is that we have to move the existing economy towards a new one.”

The report's 26 recommendations are divided among five categories: investment attractiveness, research and development, access to raw materials, workforce training and public-private partnership.

Key recommendations in the report include a buying consortium for raw energy materials, a system of shared pilot lines to speed the commercialization of new battery technologies and additional investment in battery industry workforce training.

With lithium batteries positioned to power the majority of vehicles manufactured over the next 50 years and to occupy an essential role in our power grids, buildings sector and military systems, Srinivasan said, it is vital that the U.S. catches up to other countries in terms of production.

Despite activity in the domestic battery manufacturing sector due in part to recent federal policy, U.S. industry is 10 to 20 years behind Asia — and about five years behind Europe — in commercializing the manufacture of the technology, James Greenberger, executive director at NAATBatt International, said in a statement. NAATBatt is one of three key industry groups involved in Li-Bridge.

“The electrochemical storage of electricity will be as important a technology to the economy of the 21st century as the semiconductor chip has been,” Greenberger said.

The U.S. is not currently manufacturing batteries at “any appreciable capacity,” added Srinivasan. Instead, we rely on foreign countries to build them.

Today, about 76% of lithium battery cells and the large majority of cell components are made in China, according to an Argonne news release. Srinivasan said that's because countries like China have been pushing strong industrial policy for decades, whereas the U.S. has applied a more hands-off approach with private-sector companies.

“That all changed in the last three or four years, where it became clear that some sort of a strategic approach is the only way to succeed in the marketplace,” he said. “You can't compete against state actors if you don't have a national strategy.”

Part of what makes yesterday's Li-Bridge report so interesting, Srinivasan said, is it's the first time the country has come up with a consensus view on what we should do to tackle the challenge.

According to the report, the U.S. will not reach lithium battery supply chain independence by 2030, but it estimates the country can support 60% of domestic demand for lithium batteries by that year, doubling annual lithium battery revenues to $33 billion and creating 100,000 jobs.

On the raw material supply side, Argonne and other industry actors will also be looking at how to source lithium, nickel and cobalt more sustainably, though Srinivasan said currently, “there are no easy answers.”

Mining for the metals, which happens overseas where the vast majority of reserves are naturally located, uses large amounts of water and nonrenewable energy, creating greenhouse gas emissions. “The (report) recommendations and places like Argonne are thinking deeply about all of those challenges,” Srinivasan said. “Some of these are the realities of batteries today.” To help offset the resulting carbon footprint of the batteries, Argonne launched the first lithium-ion battery recycling research and development center in 2015. Srinivasan said the ultimate goal is to create a circular economy, a model that would be driven by reusing and recycling batteries.

Looking ahead, Srinivasan said the strategic plan is a living document and will evolve as the transition to electric continues.

“It's great to say we have to do these things,” he said. “But exactly how are we going to do it? When can we get it done? What does it take to get it done? Right, that's where we're moving next.”

• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

Venkat Srinivasan is the director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science. Courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory
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