The New Energy Era: The Lithium-Ion Supply Chain - Visual Capitalist
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The New Energy Era: The Lithium-Ion Supply Chain

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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.

lithium ion supply chain us china

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.

Lessons Learned?

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.

Material201820282018-2028 % Growth
Graphite anode in Batteries170,000 tonnes2.05M tonnes1,106%
Lithium in batteries150,000 tonnes1.89M tonnes1,160%
Nickel in batteries82,000 tonnes1.09M tonnes1,229%
Cobalt in batteries58,000 tonnes320,000 tonnes452%
(Source: Benchmark Minerals)

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.

Lithium-Ion Supply Chain

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
Lithum50%
Cobalt72%
Graphite100%
(Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)

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.

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Mining

Rare Earth Elements: Where in the World Are They?

Rare earth elements are the critical ingredients for a greener economy, making their reserves increasingly valuable to global supply chains.

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Rare Earths Elements: Where in the World Are They?

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Rare earth elements are a group of metals that are critical ingredients for a greener economy, and the location of the reserves for mining are increasingly important and valuable.

This infographic features data from the United States Geological Society (USGS) which reveals the countries with the largest known reserves of rare earth elements (REEs).

What are Rare Earth Metals?

REEs, also called rare earth metals or rare earth oxides, or lanthanides, are a set of 17 silvery-white soft heavy metals.

The 17 rare earth elements are: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), lutetium (Lu), scandium (Sc), and yttrium (Y).

Scandium and yttrium are not part of the lanthanide family, but end users include them because they occur in the same mineral deposits as the lanthanides and have similar chemical properties.

The term “rare earth” is a misnomer as rare earth metals are actually abundant in the Earth’s crust. However, they are rarely found in large, concentrated deposits on their own, but rather among other elements instead.

Rare Earth Elements, How Do They Work?

Most rare earth elements find their uses as catalysts and magnets in traditional and low-carbon technologies. Other important uses of rare earth elements are in the production of special metal alloys, glass, and high-performance electronics.

Alloys of neodymium (Nd) and samarium (Sm) can be used to create strong magnets that withstand high temperatures, making them ideal for a wide variety of mission critical electronics and defense applications.

End-use% of 2019 Rare Earth Demand
Permanent Magnets38%
Catalysts23%
Glass Polishing Powder and Additives13%
Metallurgy and Alloys8%
Battery Alloys9%
Ceramics, Pigments and Glazes5%
Phosphors3%
Other4%
Source

The strongest known magnet is an alloy of neodymium with iron and boron. Adding other REEs such as dysprosium and praseodymium can change the performance and properties of magnets.

Hybrid and electric vehicle engines, generators in wind turbines, hard disks, portable electronics and cell phones require these magnets and elements. This role in technology makes their mining and refinement a point of concern for many nations.

For example, one megawatt of wind energy capacity requires 171 kg of rare earths, a single U.S. F-35 fighter jet requires about 427 kg of rare earths, and a Virginia-class nuclear submarine uses nearly 4.2 tonnes.

Global Reserves of Rare Earth Minerals

China tops the list for mine production and reserves of rare earth elements, with 44 million tons in reserves and 140,000 tons of annual mine production.

While Vietnam and Brazil have the second and third most reserves of rare earth metals with 22 million tons in reserves and 21 million tons, respectively, their mine production is among the lowest of all the countries at only 1,000 tons per year each.

CountryMine Production 2020Reserves% of Total Reserves
China140,00044,000,00038.0%
Vietnam1,00022,000,00019.0%
Brazil1,00021,000,00018.1%
Russia2,70012,000,00010.4%
India3,0006,900,0006.0%
Australia17,0004,100,0003.5%
United States38,0001,500,0001.3%
Greenland-1,500,0001.3%
Tanzania-890,0000.8%
Canada-830,0000.7%
South Africa-790,0000.7%
Other Countries100310,0000.3%
Burma30,000N/AN/A
Madagascar8,000N/AN/A
Thailand2,000N/AN/A
Burundi500N/AN/A
World Total243,300115,820,000100%

While the United States has 1.5 million tons in reserves, it is largely dependent on imports from China for refined rare earths.

Ensuring a Global Supply

In the rare earth industry, China’s dominance has been no accident. Years of research and industrial policy helped the nation develop a superior position in the market, and now the country has the ability to control production and the global availability of these valuable metals.

This tight control of the supply of these important metals has the world searching for their own supplies. With the start of mining operations in other countries, China’s share of global production has fallen from 92% in 2010 to 58%< in 2020. However, China has a strong foothold in the supply chain and produced 85% of the world’s refined rare earths in 2020.

China awards production quotas to only six state-run companies:

  • China Minmetals Rare Earth Co
  • Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co
  • Guangdong Rising Nonferrous
  • China Northern Rare Earth Group
  • China Southern Rare Earth Group
  • Xiamen Tungsten

As the demand for REEs increases, the world will need tap these reserves. This graphic could provide clues as to the next source of rare earth elements.

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Energy

Mapped: Solar Power by Country in 2021

In 2020, solar power saw its largest-ever annual capacity expansion at 127 gigawatts. Here’s a snapshot of solar power capacity by country.

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Solar Power by Country

Mapped: Solar Power by Country in 2021

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

The world is adopting renewable energy at an unprecedented pace, and solar power is the energy source leading the way.

Despite a 4.5% fall in global energy demand in 2020, renewable energy technologies showed promising progress. While the growth in renewables was strong across the board, solar power led from the front with 127 gigawatts installed in 2020, its largest-ever annual capacity expansion.

The above infographic uses data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to map solar power capacity by country in 2021. This includes both solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power capacity.

The Solar Power Leaderboard

From the Americas to Oceania, countries in virtually every continent (except Antarctica) added more solar to their mix last year. Here’s a snapshot of solar power capacity by country at the beginning of 2021:

CountryInstalled capacity, megawattsWatts* per capita% of world total
China 🇨🇳 254,35514735.6%
U.S. 🇺🇸 75,57223110.6%
Japan 🇯🇵 67,0004989.4%
Germany 🇩🇪 53,7835937.5%
India 🇮🇳 39,211325.5%
Italy 🇮🇹 21,6003453.0%
Australia 🇦🇺 17,6276372.5%
Vietnam 🇻🇳 16,504602.3%
South Korea 🇰🇷 14,5752172.0%
Spain 🇪🇸 14,0891862.0%
United Kingdom 🇬🇧 13,5632001.9%
France 🇫🇷 11,7331481.6%
Netherlands 🇳🇱 10,2133961.4%
Brazil 🇧🇷 7,881221.1%
Turkey 🇹🇷 6,668730.9%
South Africa 🇿🇦 5,990440.8%
Taiwan 🇹🇼 5,8171720.8%
Belgium 🇧🇪 5,6463940.8%
Mexico 🇲🇽 5,644350.8%
Ukraine 🇺🇦 5,3601140.8%
Poland 🇵🇱 3,936340.6%
Canada 🇨🇦 3,325880.5%
Greece 🇬🇷 3,2472580.5%
Chile 🇨🇱 3,2051420.4%
Switzerland 🇨🇭 3,1182950.4%
Thailand 🇹🇭 2,988430.4%
United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪 2,5391850.4%
Austria 🇦🇹 2,2201780.3%
Czech Republic 🇨🇿 2,0731940.3%
Hungary 🇭🇺 1,9531310.3%
Egypt 🇪🇬 1,694170.2%
Malaysia 🇲🇾 1,493280.2%
Israel 🇮🇱 1,4391340.2%
Russia 🇷🇺 1,42870.2%
Sweden 🇸🇪 1,417630.2%
Romania 🇷🇴 1,387710.2%
Jordan 🇯🇴 1,3591000.2%
Denmark 🇩🇰 1,3001860.2%
Bulgaria 🇧🇬 1,0731520.2%
Philippines 🇵🇭 1,04890.1%
Portugal 🇵🇹 1,025810.1%
Argentina 🇦🇷 764170.1%
Pakistan 🇵🇰 73760.1%
Morocco 🇲🇦 73460.1%
Slovakia 🇸🇰 593870.1%
Honduras 🇭🇳 514530.1%
Algeria 🇩🇿 448100.1%
El Salvador 🇸🇻 429660.1%
Iran 🇮🇷 41450.1%
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦 409120.1%
Finland 🇫🇮 391390.1%
Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 370340.1%
Peru 🇵🇪 331100.05%
Singapore 🇸🇬 329450.05%
Bangladesh 🇧🇩 30120.04%
Slovenia 🇸🇮 2671280.04%
Uruguay 🇺🇾 256740.04%
Yemen 🇾🇪 25380.04%
Iraq 🇮🇶 21650.03%
Cambodia 🇰🇭 208120.03%
Cyprus 🇨🇾 2001470.03%
Panama 🇵🇦 198460.03%
Luxembourg 🇱🇺 1952440.03%
Malta 🇲🇹 1843120.03%
Indonesia 🇮🇩 17210.02%
Cuba 🇨🇺 163140.02%
Belarus 🇧🇾 159170.02%
Senegal 🇸🇳 15580.02%
Norway 🇳🇴 152170.02%
Lithuania 🇱🇹 148370.02%
Namibia 🇳🇦 145550.02%
New Zealand 🇳🇿 142290.02%
Estonia 🇪🇪 130980.02%
Bolivia 🇧🇴 120100.02%
Oman 🇴🇲 109210.02%
Colombia 🇨🇴 10720.01%
Kenya 🇰🇪 10620.01%
Guatemala 🇬🇹10160.01%
Croatia 🇭🇷 85170.01%
World total 🌎 713,97083100.0%

*1 megawatt = 1,000,000 watts.

China is the undisputed leader in solar installations, with over 35% of global capacity. What’s more, the country is showing no signs of slowing down. It has the world’s largest wind and solar project in the pipeline, which could add another 400,000MW to its clean energy capacity.

Following China from afar is the U.S., which recently surpassed 100,000MW of solar power capacity after installing another 50,000MW in the first three months of 2021. Annual solar growth in the U.S. has averaged an impressive 42% over the last decade. Policies like the solar investment tax credit, which offers a 26% tax credit on residential and commercial solar systems, have helped propel the industry forward.

Although Australia hosts a fraction of China’s solar capacity, it tops the per capita rankings due to its relatively low population of 26 million people. The Australian continent receives the highest amount of solar radiation of any continent, and over 30% of Australian households now have rooftop solar PV systems.

China: The Solar Champion

In 2020, President Xi Jinping stated that China aims to be carbon neutral by 2060, and the country is taking steps to get there.

China is a leader in the solar industry, and it seems to have cracked the code for the entire solar supply chain. In 2019, Chinese firms produced 66% of the world’s polysilicon, the initial building block of silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of solar cells came from China, along with 72% of the world’s PV panels.

With that said, it’s no surprise that 5 of the world’s 10 largest solar parks are in China, and it will likely continue to build more as it transitions to carbon neutrality.

What’s Driving the Rush for Solar Power?

The energy transition is a major factor in the rise of renewables, but solar’s growth is partly due to how cheap it has become over time. Solar energy costs have fallen exponentially over the last decade, and it’s now the cheapest source of new energy generation.

Since 2010, the cost of solar power has seen a 85% decrease, down from $0.28 to $0.04 per kWh. According to MIT researchers, economies of scale have been the single-largest factor in continuing the cost decline for the last decade. In other words, as the world installed and made more solar panels, production became cheaper and more efficient.

This year, solar costs are rising due to supply chain issues, but the rise is likely to be temporary as bottlenecks resolve.

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