Where Key Minerals Used in EVs Come From

EV production relies on imported minerals, primarily from Canada, China, Chile, Gabon, Norway, and Argentina.

EVs (Chevrolet Bolt EV propulsion system shown) contain strategic minerals not used in conventional ICE-powered vehicles, and some shared but in much higher quantity. (Chevrolet)

What minerals are used uniquely in the manufacture of electric passenger vehicles? Is the U.S. self-sufficient in these minerals, or does it rely on imports? And if the latter, what are the source countries? These questions are addressed in two tables.

Table 1, below, lists the weight of the minerals used in a typical electric passenger car and a typical IC-engine conventional car. The data are from the International Energy Agency . Importantly, they are applicable for cars and not for vehicles in general, and they are not specifically tailored to the cars made in the U.S. (Note that the relative weight does not necessarily correspond to each mineral’s relative importance.)

Table 1

The data show that of the eight minerals used in electric cars, five are not used in conventionally powered cars: graphite, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earths. Furthermore, two additional minerals – copper and manganese – are used in electric cars in more than twice the quantity, by weight, as they are used in conventional cars. Finally, zinc is used to the same extent in both types of cars.

Table 2 includes two sets of information. The first set involves the 2020 U.S. net import reliance for the eight minerals used in electric cars. The data, which come from the U.S. Geological Survey  (USGS), represent the imports for all uses, and not just for vehicles. The table shows that the net import reliance is 50% or greater for all but one mineral of interest (indeed, it is 100% for three minerals).

Table 2

Table 2 also lists the major import sources (in descending order of import share) for all minerals, also from the USGS. The main import sources for the eight minerals are Canada (nickel and zinc), China (natural graphite and rare earths), Chile (copper), Gabon (manganese), Norway (cobalt), and Argentina (lithium). It should be noted that the entries for graphite are for natural graphite. The U.S. is a major producer of synthetic graphite.

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research  and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan . This article originally posted on https://www.greencarcongress.com  and is used with permission.