The U.S. Can Counter China’s Control of Minerals for the Energy Transition – by By James Morton Turner(New York Times – November 6, 2023)

Dr. Turner is a professor of environmental studies at Wellesley College and the author, most recently, of “Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future.”

China recently rattled the world’s electric vehicle supply chains by announcing new export controls on graphite, a key component of lithium-ion batteries. If China uses the export controls, which take effect on Dec. 1, to reduce exports of graphite or to favor Chinese-owned companies operating abroad, it could slow down efforts to scale up advanced battery manufacturing globally.

Welcome to the geopolitics of the clean energy transition. Unlike in the 20th century, when China was largely a bystander in petroleum politics, the country has achieved new geopolitical significance by scaling up investments in clean energy manufacturing and the critical minerals that work requires.

The supply chains for many critical minerals, not just graphite, run through China. In the case of materials critical to the production of lithium-ion batteries, which power electric vehicles, the consulting group Benchmark Mineral Intelligence estimated that China controlled 58 percent of the global production of lithium compounds in 2022, 69 percent of nickel sulfate, 69 percent of synthetic graphite, 75 percent of cobalt, 95 percent of manganese and 100 percent of spherical graphite. China plays a similarly outsize role in the supply of materials used in solar panels and wind turbines.

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