The New Energy Era: The Lithium-Ion Supply Chain
The world is rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies.
Battery minerals are set to become the new oil, with lithium-ion battery supply chains becoming the new pipelines.
China is currently leading this lithium-ion battery revolution—leaving the U.S. dependent on its economic rival. However, the harsh lessons of the 1970-80s oil crises have increased pressure on the U.S. to develop its own domestic energy supply chain and gain access to key battery metals.
Introducing the New Energy Era
Today’s infographic from Standard Lithium explores the current energy landscape and America’s position in the new energy era.
An Energy Dependence Problem
Energy dependence is the degree of a nation’s reliance on imported energy, resulting from an insufficient domestic supply. Oil crises in the 1970-80s revealed America’s reliance on foreign produced oil, especially from the Middle East.
The U.S. economy ground to a halt when gas prices soared during the 1973 oil crisis—altering consumer behavior and energy policy for generations. In the aftermath of the crisis, the government imposed national speed limits to conserve oil, and also demanded cheaper, smaller, and more fuel-efficient cars.
U.S. administrations set an objective to wean America off foreign oil through “energy independence”—the ability to meet the country’s fuel needs using domestic resources.
Spurred by technological breakthroughs such as hydraulic fracking, the U.S. now has the capacity to respond to high oil prices by ramping up domestic production.
By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production could rise to 17.4 million barrels a day. At that level, American net imports of petroleum could fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949.
In fact, the successful development of America’s shale fields is a key reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has lost the majority of its influence over the supply and price of oil.
A Renewable Future: Turning the Ship
The increasing scarcity of economic oil and gas fields, combined with the negative environmental impacts of oil and the declining costs of renewable power, are creating a new energy supply and demand dynamic.
Oil demand could drop by 16.5 million barrels per day. Oil producers could face significant losses, with $380 billion of above-ground investments becoming worthless if the oil industry and oil-rich nations are not prepared for a surge in green energy by 2030.
Energy companies are hedging their risk with increased investment in renewables. The world’s top 24 publicly-listed oil companies spent on average 1.3% of their total budgets on low carbon technology in 2018, amounting to $260 billion. That is double the 0.68% the same group had invested on average through the period of 2010 and 2017.
The New Geopolitics of Energy: Battery Minerals
Low carbon technologies for the new energy era are also creating a demand for specific materials and new supply chains that can procure them.
Renewable and low carbon technology will be mineral intensive, requiring many metals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. These are key raw materials, and demand will only grow.
|Material||2018||2028||2018-2028 % Growth|
|Graphite anode in Batteries||170,000 tonnes||2.05M tonnes||1,106%|
|Lithium in batteries||150,000 tonnes||1.89M tonnes||1,160%|
|Nickel in batteries||82,000 tonnes||1.09M tonnes||1,229%|
|Cobalt in batteries||58,000 tonnes||320,000 tonnes||452%|
The cost of these materials is the largest factor in battery technology, and will determine whether battery supply chains succeed or fail.
China currently dominates the lithium-ion battery supply chain, and could continue to do so. This leaves the U.S. dependent on China as we venture into this new era.
Could history repeat itself?
The Battery Metals Race
There are five stages in a lithium-ion battery supply chain—and the U.S. holds a smaller percentage of the global supply chain than China at nearly every stage.
China’s dominance of the global battery supply chain creates a competitive advantage that the U.S. has no choice but to rely on.
However, this can still be prevented if the United States moves fast. From natural resources, human capital and the technology, the U.S. can build its own domestic supply.
Building the U.S. Battery Supply Chain
The U.S. relies heavily on imports of several keys materials necessary for a lithium-ion battery supply chain.
|U.S. Net Import Dependence|
But the U.S. is making strides to secure its place in the new energy era. The American Minerals Security Act seeks to identify the resources necessary to secure America’s mineral independence.
The government has also released a list of 35 minerals it deems critical to the national interest.
Declaring U.S. Battery Independence
A supply chain starts with raw materials, and the U.S. has the resources necessary to build its own battery supply chain. This would help the country avoid supply disruptions like those seen during the oil crises in the 1970s.
Battery metals are becoming the new oil and supply chains the new pipelines. It is still early in this new energy era, and the victors are yet to be determined in the battery arms race.
Visualizing the Uranium Mining Industry in 3 Charts
These visuals highlight the uranium mining industry and its output, as well as the trajectory of nuclear energy from 1960 to today.
When uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, it’s likely the German chemist didn’t know how important the element would become to human life.
Used minimally in glazing and ceramics, uranium was originally mined as a byproduct of producing radium until the late 1930s. However, the discovery of nuclear fission, and the potential promise of nuclear power, changed everything.
What’s the current state of the uranium mining industry? This series of charts from Truman Du highlights production and the use of uranium using 2021 data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Our World in Data.
Who are the Biggest Uranium Miners in the World?
Most of the world’s biggest uranium suppliers are based in countries with the largest uranium deposits, like Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.
The largest of these companies is Kazatomprom, a Kazakhstani state-owned company that produced 25% of the world’s new uranium supply in 2021.
As seen in the above chart, 94% of the roughly 48,000 tonnes of uranium mined globally in 2021 came from just 13 companies.
|Rank||Company||2021 Uranium Production (tonnes)||Percent of Total|
|3||🇷🇺 Uranium One||4,514||9%|
|6||🇺🇿 Navoi Mining||3,500||7%|
|9||🇦🇺 General Atomics/Quasar||2,241||5%|
|11||🇬🇧 Energy Asia||900||2%|
France’s Orano, another state-owned company, was the world’s second largest producer of uranium at 4,541 tonnes.
Companies rounding out the top five all had similar uranium production numbers to Orano, each contributing around 9% of the global total. Those include Uranium One from Russia, Cameco from Canada, and CGN in China.
Where are the Largest Uranium Mines Found?
The majority of uranium deposits around the world are found in 16 countries with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada accounting for for nearly 40% of recoverable uranium reserves.
But having large reserves doesn’t necessarily translate to uranium production numbers. For example, though Australia has the biggest single deposit of uranium (Olympic Dam) and the largest reserves overall, the country ranks fourth in uranium supplied, coming in at 9%.
Here are the top 10 uranium mines in the world, accounting for 53% of the world’s supply.
Of the largest mines in the world, four are found in Kazakhstan. Altogether, uranium mined in Kazakhstan accounted for 45% of the world’s uranium supply in 2021.
|Uranium Mine||Country||Main Owner||2021 Production|
|Cigar Lake||🇨🇦 Canada||Cameco/Orano||4,693t|
|Inkai 1-3||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazaktomprom/Cameco||3,449t|
|Husab||🇳🇦 Namibia||Swakop Uranium (CGN)||3,309t|
|Karatau (Budenovskoye 2)||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Uranium One/Kazatomprom||2,561t|
|Four Mile||🇦🇺 Australia||Quasar||2,241t|
|Olympic Dam||🇦🇺 Australia||BHP Billiton||1,922t|
|Central Mynkuduk||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Ortalyk||1,579t|
|Kharasan 1||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazatomprom/Uranium One||1,579t|
Namibia, which has two of the five largest uranium mines in operation, is the second largest supplier of uranium by country, at 12%, followed by Canada at 10%.
Interestingly, the owners of these mines are not necessarily local. For example, France’s Orano operates mines in Canada and Niger. Russia’s Uranium One operates mines in Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Tanzania. China’s CGN owns mines in Namibia.
And despite the African continent holding a sizable amount of uranium reserves, no African company placed in the top 10 biggest companies by production. Sopamin from Niger was the highest ranked at #12 with 809 tonnes mined.
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy
Uranium mining has changed drastically since the first few nuclear power plants came online in the 1950s.
For 30 years, uranium production grew steadily due to both increasing demand for nuclear energy and expanding nuclear arsenals, eventually peaking at 69,692 tonnes mined in 1980 at the height of the Cold War.
Nuclear energy production (measured in terawatt-hours) also rose consistently until the 21st century, peaking in 2001 when it contributed nearly 7% to the world’s energy supply. But in the years following, it started to drop and flatline.
By 2021, nuclear energy had fallen to 4.3% of global energy production. Several nuclear accidents—Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima—contributed to turning sentiment against nuclear energy.
|% of Total Energy|
More recently, a return to nuclear energy has gained some support as countries push for transitions to cleaner energy, since nuclear power generates no direct carbon emissions.
What’s Next for Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear remains one of the least harmful sources of energy, and some countries are pursuing advancements in nuclear tech to fight climate change.
Small, modular nuclear reactors are one of the current proposed solutions to both bring down costs and reduce construction time of nuclear power plants. The benefits include smaller capital investments and location flexibility by trading off energy generation capacity.
With countries having to deal with aging nuclear reactors and climate change at the same time, replacements need to be considered. Will they come in the form of new nuclear power and uranium mining, or alternative sources of energy?
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