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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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Gold

The World’s Gold and Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation

In 2019, the value of global money creation was over 500 times higher than the world’s gold and silver coin production combined.

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World's Gold and Silver Coin Production

Global Gold & Silver Coin Production vs. Money Creation

Note: Data has been updated to correct a previous calculation error pertaining to Japanese Yen money supply.

Both precious metals and cash serve as safe haven assets, intended to limit losses during market turmoil. However, while modern currencies can be printed by central governments, precious metals derive value from their scarcity.

In this infographic from Texas Precious Metals, we compare the value of the world’s gold and silver coin production to global money creation.

Total Production Per Person, 2019

We calculated the value of global currency issuance in 2019 as well as precious metal coins minted, and divided by the global population to get total production per person.

Throughout, global money supply is a proxy based on the 5 largest reserve currencies: the U.S. dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, Sterling Pound, and Chinese Renminbi.

2019 ProductionOuncesDollar ValueDollar Value Per Person
Global Gold Coins7,204,982$10.9B$1.42
Global Silver Coins97,900,000$1.8B$0.23
Global Money Supply$4.3T$556.33

All numbers are in USD according to exchange rates as of December 31 2019. Gold and silver values are based on the 2019 year close price of $1,510.60 and $17.90 respectively.

The value of new global money supply was 390 times higher than the value of gold coins minted, and 2,400 times higher than silver coins minted.

Put another way, for each ounce of minted gold coin, the global money supply increased by more than $593,000.

Change in Annual Production, 2019 vs. 2010

Compared to the start of the decade, here’s how annual production levels have changed:

 20102019% change
Global Silver Coins (oz)95,900,00097,900,0002.1%
Global Gold Coins (oz)6,298,3317,204,98214.4%
Global Money Supply (USD)$2,936,296,692,440$4,268,993,639,92645.4%

Annual increases to global money supply have increased by half, far outpacing the change in the world’s gold and silver coin production.

Even more recently, how has production changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 Effect

In response to the global pandemic, central banks have enacted numerous measures to help support economies—including issuing new currency.

The global money supply increased by more than $6.8 trillion in the first half of 2020. In fact, the value of printed currency was 930 times higher than the value of minted gold coins over the same timeframe.

Investors may want to consider which asset is more vulnerable to inflation as they look to protect their portfolios.

Want to learn more? See the U.S. version of this graphic.

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Mining

Visualizing U.S. Money Supply vs. Precious Metal Production in the COVID-19 Era

Amid trillions in COVID-19 stimulus, this graphic compares new U.S. dollars printed to U.S. precious metal coin production.

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U.S. Precious Metal Coin Prduction

U.S. Precious Metal Coin Production in the COVID-19 Era

Gold and silver have played an important role in money throughout history. Unlike modern currencies, they can’t be created out of thin air and derive value from their scarcity.

In the COVID-19 era, this difference has become more prominent as countries print vast amounts of currency to support their suffering economies. This graphic from Texas Precious Metals highlights how the value of U.S. precious metal coin production compares to U.S. money creation.

Year to Date Production

In this infographic, we have calculated the value of money supply added as well as bullion minted, and divided it by the U.S. population to get total production per person. Here’s how the January-September 2020 data breaks down:

 Total (Ounces)Dollar ValueDollar Value Per Person
U.S. Gold Ounces826,000$1.6B$4.79
U.S. Silver Ounces22,261,500$544M$1.65
U.S. Money Supply$3.4T$10,250.16
U.S. Debt$3.8T$11,578.36

Gold and silver dollar values based on Oct 5, 2020 spot prices of $1,915.93 and $24.47 respectively.

The value of new U.S. money supply was more than 2,100 times higher than the value of new gold minted. Compared to minted silver, the value of new U.S. money supply was over 6,000 times higher.

Production Per Day, Per State Over Time

Here’s how production has changed on a per day, per state basis since 2010:

 20102020 YTD (Jan-Sep)Min-Max Production, 2010-2019 
Minted Gold Coins 78oz61oz12oz-78oz 
Minted Silver Coins 1,945oz1,631oz899oz-2,633oz 
U.S. Dollars$19M$255M$19M-$50M 

Year to date, U.S. precious metal coin production is within a normal historical range. If production were to continue at the current rate through December, gold would be above historical norms at 81 ounces and silver would be within the normal range at 2,175 ounces.

The issuance of U.S. dollars tells a different story. Over the last nine months, the U.S. has already added 400% more dollars to its money supply than it did in the entirety of 2019—and there’s still three months left to go in the year.

A Macroeconomic View

Of course, current economic conditions have been a catalyst for the ballooning money supply. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has issued over $3 trillion in fiscal stimulus. In turn, the U.S. Federal Reserve has increased the money supply by $3.4 trillion from January to September 2020.

U.S. Money Supply

Put another way, for every ounce of gold created in 2020 there has been $4 million U.S. dollars added to the money supply.

The question for those looking for safe haven investments is: which of these will ultimately hold their value better?

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