With the rise of the electric and hybrid vehicle comes the ever increasing demand to supply batteries capable of providing propulsion for the vehicles of the future. Once again, the U.S. is falling behind. Unable to meet demand, automakers are now turning elsewhere to source their batteries. It's a game of catch up now, and the U.S. doesn't appear to be gaining ground.
The problem is not raw materials, as the U.S. has significant sources for lithium in particular due to somewhat solid relationships with South American countries rich in lithium, the shortage problem stems from the lack of companies producing batteries and the lack of funding for the companies that do produce the batteries.
As Michael Andrews, the director of government affairs at Johnson Controls said, "Right now in this country, we are faced with a critical problem. We have, at best, an immature supply chain (for batteries)."
If the problem is not lithium supply, then the problem must be the other raw materials needed to construct a battery. Materials such as plastics, casings, cathode and anode materials and so on are in short supply from U.S. suppliers. Even more critical, suppliers lack the manufacturing equipment here in the States to assemble batteries in large quantities. Even if the materials were available, there is little infrastructure in place to build the batteries.
Andrews stated, "I fret over the development of the supply base in the U.S. to provide manufacturing equipment to assemble advanced battery technology. If that infrastructure is unavailable, suppliers will import batteries from elsewhere."
The demand for advanced batteries is rising everyday. And everyday the U.S. is falling behind further and further. President Obama tried to help out in the stimulus allocating $5 billion towards advanced battery technology, in addition to the $25 billion last year that was provided to help automotive manufacturers retool and change production capabilities for advanced propulsion vehicles. But even the money may not be enough and many upcoming vehicles have turned to LG Chem (Korea) or Evonik (Germany) to supply batteries for electric vehicles.
As the auto industry in the U.S. struggles to stay afloat and suppliers file for bankruptcy almost daily, others sit back and wonder why they have not focused production on the demand for batteries and electric propulsion systems. The demand is high and will likely only grow in the coming years, but if the suppliers in the U.S. are not ready, automakers will invest elsewhere.
Source: Wards Auto