Biden Uses Defense Production Act to Mine Minerals Needed for Big Batteries

Biden Uses Defense Production Act to Mine Minerals Needed for Big Batteries

As part of a broader response to the war in Ukraine and its cascading impacts on the energy sector, President Biden will use the Defense Protection Act (DPA) to mine and process minerals needed to make batteries. Lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese are key components of large-scale batteries, which are needed for electric cars and renewable energy storage. These batteries would help the two most polluting sectors in the US (transportation and the power grid) move to clean, renewable, and electrified systems. Russia provides about 20% of the global nickel supply, and even before the latest Russian attack on Ukraine, the US was looking for ways to secure critical minerals domestically.

Bloomberg: Biden Invokes Cold War Powers to Boost EV Battery Production, March 31, 2022.

CNBC: Why The EV Industry Faces A Global Nickel Shortage, March 7, 2022.

Why This Matters

Biden can invoke the DPA with his presidential authority, so this is one way the Administration can advance climate goals without Congress. Demand for the minerals needed to build green energy infrastructure is expected to skyrocket as the country shifts to electrified renewable systems. The White House fact sheet also says the President is "reviewing potential further uses of DPA,” hinting at additional directives to speed up the energy transition. However, expanding mining and shoring up a national supply of minerals is still a dangerous, extractive process.

"More than a century of reckless mining has poisoned the air, water, and land of too many communities, many of them Indigenous,” Lauren Pagel, policy director of the nonprofit Earthworks, said in a press release. Although the Administration promises to use "strong environmental, labor, community, and tribal consultation standards,” it just started the process of updating the country’s 1872 Mining Law that still governs the sector.

Mining Isn’t The Only Way To Get Minerals

To minimize harm as the world transitions to renewable energy and builds more batteries, there are ways to reduce the need for more mining. The European Union, for example, introduced legislation for creating more sustainable batteries by looking at their entire life cycle, from design to waste treatment. The legislation acknowledges that batteries and energy storage are "a key element of the clean energy transition” -- especially for zero-emission transportation -- and would require new batteries to contain recycled materials and carbon intensity during production to be tracked. It would also establish a recycling program for used batteries, providing the opportunity for materials to be reused.

Business Insider: How To Mine Metals From Electric Car Batteries | World Wide Waste, October 4, 2021.

CNBC: How Tesla’s Battery Mastermind Is Tackling EV's Biggest Problem, April 10, 2021.