Good morning and good afternoon to those of you around the world who are joining this program. Thank you to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today.
The purpose of my talk is to introduce you to the Li-Bridge initiative. The Li-Bridge initiative is a public-private effort to develop a strategy for the United States to build a robust and sustainable lithium-ion battery industry and supply chain in North America. NAATBatt International, which I lead, together with our partner convening organizations, NY-BEST and New Energy Nexus, have been asked by the Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory to help facilitate private industry’s input into this important project. The convening organizations have in turn hired the Boston Consulting Group, one of the top management consulting firms in the world, to manage the project and coordinate industry’s input.
It is important to note that Li-Bridge is a strategic initiative, not a funding mechanism. Li-Bridge will not disburse any money and will not make recommendations to the Department of Energy as to which companies to fund. The goal of Li-Bridge is reach out to you in industry, you who are the experts in lithium battery technology and in running successful businesses. The U.S. government wants your advice as to how the United States can establish a secure supply chain and maximize job and value creation in the lithium battery industry over time. Li-Bridge’s job is to collect and transmit that advice to government.
Before I get into the details of Li-Bridge, I want to talk for a minute about lithium-ion technology and why it is so important. As we meet here today, the economy of the world is in a state of energy transition. The transition is from an economy that has for the past two hundred years relied on heat-based fuels to an economy that will rely on electric energy. There are good economic and technological reasons why this transition is taking place. Electricity is a far more efficient and flexible form of energy than heat. It is also cleaner and can, of course, be generated on a carbon-free basis.
The importance of the move to electric energy to the fight against climate change cannot be over emphasized. The technological transition from heat-based fuels to electricity may well be what saves humanity from the worst ravages of 200 years of unlimited carbon emissions. This is not, of course, without precedent. Human-created technology has a history of remediating human-caused environmental pollution. It is instructive to remember that 125 years ago the big environmental concern was that the streets of Manhattan would soon be covered in six feet of horse manure. Because of an obvious technological change that did not happen. So there is an important lesson here for all of us in 2022: Let’s embrace the change to clean electric power and get all the horse manure out of the air.
It would be great if I could credit battery makers and electric vehicle makers for this energy transition. But the real story behind the transition has more to do with the semiconductor than it does with climate change. Computers just don’t run well on gasoline. The move to electric power is inevitable and irresistible. Properly understood, the electrification of vehicle drive trains is not a revolution but an evolution. The electrification of vehicles has been going on for decades. It started with power windows, then power seats and seat heaters, then safety systems and navigation systems. Electrifying the drive train is simply the next evolutionary step. Electricity is the future of energy.
Batteries will play a critical role in the new electricity economy. Batteries are the primary means by which electric energy can be provided to any point in space without the need for a physical connection to a fixed electricity grid. Accordingly, battery technology will be critical to all the new mobile devices, systems and products that society will create and that electricity will enable in the new electricity age.
The advantage of lithium-based batteries, of course, is that they are based on lithium, the fourth lightest element in the universe. For the foreseeable future, lithium batteries will be the lightest and most efficient way to get electricity to any mobile device or system. Accordingly, lithium-based batteries will be critical to the operation and also likely to the development of all those new devices, systems and products. That is why lithium batteries are and will be the cornerstone of the new electricity economy.
Lithium battery technology was invented in the United States. It is not news to anyone, however, that American companies have fallen far behind in the competition to manufacture that technology. According to FCAB’s National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, the United States, which has the world’s largest national economy and second largest automobile market in the world, produces only 8% of the lithium battery cells, 10% of the anode materials, 6% of the separators, 2% of the electrolytes and a negligible amount of the cathode materials used in lithium batteries.
The real danger to falling behind in the manufacture of lithium batteries is that it implies a parallel falling behind in lithium technology know-how. Building battery Gigafactories is easy. All you have to do is spend money. But building the know-how needed to operate those factories to produce the safest and most efficient battery technology possible is a much greater challenge.
We pride ourselves in the United States on being the most innovative nation in the world. And there is solid truth in that boast. We have and continue to produce some of the best scientists in the world. But there is truth too in the old adage that 90% of all innovation takes place on the factory floor. Lithium battery technology is a good example of that adage. Over the past decade we have seen a 90% drop in the price of lithium-ion batteries. This price drop has been driven not by scientific breakthroughs but by hundreds of small tweaks and efficiency improvements in the way that lithium-ion battery cells and packs are made. Manufacturing experience is an essential component of innovation. World-leading innovation in lithium battery technology—the cornerstone of the new electricity economy—is not realistically possible in the United States if we are only making 8% of the world’s lithium batteries.
The United States is not the only country to recognize the profound implications of the energy transition and the opportunities of that transition to reshuffle the world economic order. China has jumped into the electrification economy with both feet. More recently, so has Europe. A worldwide battle is shaping up for technology leadership and the best jobs of the 21st Century. The United States has not yet lost that battle. But we need to start fighting it soon and in earnest.
The competitive battle among manufacturers of lithium battery technology will influence not just where lithium batteries and their components are made but also where the devices, systems and products powered by those batteries are developed and made. Those devices, systems and products will form the core of the 21st Century economy. As in any economic competition, there will be winners and there will be losers. The goal of Li-Bridge is to give American companies and American workers their best possible chance to be winners in the new electricity economy.
Li-Bridge will be about figuring out how to win in that competition. It will seek to answer some very big and complicated questions, such as “What does winning look like?” “Where to play?” and “How to win?” Good answers to those questions will need to take careful account of the strengths, but also the weaknesses, of the American economy, political structure and legal system. Determining where not to play may turn out to be just as important as determining where to play.
The mechanism for answering those questions within Li-Bridge will involve six committees, each focused on a different aspect of the supply chain challenge. The first committee will focus on Technology, Innovation & Transparency. The second will focus on Demand, Supply and Availability. The third on Economic Competitiveness & Differentiation. The fourth on Manufacturing & Infrastructure. The fifth on Workforce & Communities. And the sixth on a Go-Forward Operating Model.
Each committee will consist of six to eight members drawn from companies selected by the Boston Consulting Group with the goal of including on each committee companies representing a cross section of the entire lithium battery supply chain. The individual committees, after study of their designated areas of focus, will meet in a series of four forums, running from April through July of this year, to discuss and try to reach agreement on how to answer the big and complicated questions I mentioned before.
From time to time during their deliberations, the committees will reach out to broader industry for input and comment. The listening program you are attending today is an example of the type of outreach that the Li-Bridge committees will be doing to make sure that Li-Bridge obtains the greatest possible input from industry.
The nominal culmination of the Li-Bridge project will be a White Paper prepared by the Boston Consulting Group summarizing the recommendations of industry about how to optimize the U.S. lithium battery supply chain. But the real culmination will be a go-forward plan, putting in place mechanisms to ensure that whatever recommendations Li-Bridge makes are taken seriously by government and attract sustainable bi-partisan support in Congress. Standing up a robust domestic lithium battery supply chain will not be done overnight. Whatever plans and recommendations Li-Bridge makes will need to survive multiple changes in administrations and Congressional delegations. We need to keep this firmly in mind as we take up this task.
I look forward to working with all of you in industry, as well as with NAATBatt’s partners at NY-BEST and New Energy Nexus in making sure that you in industry, the true experts in business and lithium battery technology, have a chance to share your wisdom and experience. Together we can all help move our country, its economy and the world as a whole in the right direction in this new age of electricity.