Driven primarily by projected electric vehicle (EV) demand, the global lithium-ion battery industry and its associated supply chain have committed more than $600 billion in funding towards launching new electric vehicle models. This includes large-scale investment in mineral extraction, chemical processing, anode and cathode production, cell production, recycling facilities, and the provision of EV component parts.
The GM and LG Chem announcement of the Ultium Cells battery factory has opened up new possibilities for Ohio. Already a powerhouse in the automotive supply chain, Ohio has a unique opportunity to capture EV supply chain manufacturing investment and establish the state as a hub for the EV and battery industries. However, competition for EV supply chain manufacturing investment in North America — and around the globe — is intensifying and deals are being negotiated and announced right now, making it essential for the state to move quickly. Decisions made over the next two years will shape the footprint of auto production for decades.
Recognizing this urgency, JobsOhio and NRDC partnered in an effort to grow Ohio’s EV supply chain manufacturing presence while reducing transportation sector emissions. In a new report, Ohio Battery Supply Chain Opportunities, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence — a leading battery industry analysis firm — provides an overview of Ohio’s key advantages when trying to capture these investments and protect its automotive heritage. While the report emphasizes Ohio’s infrastructure and logistics, its extensive experience with the automotive supply chain, and its highly skilled workforce, the report makes special mention of a new asset that Ohio can use to attract massive investments, solar energy.
As we work to identify opportunities to leverage the state’s strengths to create jobs in fast-emerging global industrial sectors, we have the potential to attract investments that will sustain our economy for the longer-term. The battery materials supply chain provides a compelling opportunity for Ohio to take a leadership position.
Lithium-Ion Battery Markets
The annual lithium-ion battery market is already estimated at more than $35 billion with projections that it will triple over the next five years. Long-term forecasts suggest that this market will attract as much as $620 billion of investment over the next 20 years.
According to Benchmark, as of 2017 there were projected to be 17 lithium-ion gigafactories (plants capable of producing greater than 1GWh yearly production). By the fourth quarter of 2021, this number has grown to 261 gigafactories worldwide. The United States’ share has increased from 3 in 2017 to having merely 18 battery megafactories in various stages of development today, most of which have been announced in the last six months. Of these 18, only 4 are currently active; one more than in 2017. As battery manufacturing has ramped up, battery prices have plummeted, leading to projections that EVs will reach price parity with internal combustion vehicles by the mid-2020s.
Ohio Was an Early Mover
The good news is that there are clear signs of progress in our state. With the $2.3 billion Ultium Cells battery manufacturing plant investment, Ohio achieved an early-mover advantage that has positioned the state to attract other elements of the supply chain. However, the supply chain that feeds the plant remains, at the moment, mostly in Asia. We need a bold plan to bring that supply chain to Ohio. After all, Ohio’s manufacturing and research capabilities, combined with the state’s highly skilled workforce, makes clear there’s no better place for this industry to plant its roots.
Ohio is already home to several companies active in the supply chain, including BASF, which produces cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries in Elyria, and Dana Corporation, which produces thermal management systems for Li-ion batteries. And several Ohio universities are also leaders in battery research and development, including Ohio State, Wright State, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Dayton, and the University of Akron. Additionally, Glenn Research Center manages Li-ion battery development for the International Space Station. And the Air Force Research Lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base supports research on lithium ion for military applications.
Ohio’s Growing Solar Energy Presence Provides a Key Advantage to Ohio
Ohio is experiencing significant solar growth right now. According to a 2020 study by Ohio University, the Ohio solar industry is poised to invest nearly $20B in rural counties around the state and is generating more than 55,000 construction jobs that can lead to dignified careers in the building and construction trades. With more than 8,400 megawatts of utility scale solar projects either already approved or pending before the Power Siting Board, Ohio is listed as a top state for solar growth in the Midwest.
The state’s growing solar presence is proving to be a key asset when attracting new investment. Recent manufacturing announcements like the Nestle Purina facility near Cincinnati and the massive Intel announcement in Licking County all come with renewable energy purchasing goals. And as Benchmark lays out in their new report, the automotive economy is also looking to purchase solar energy, and they want it as quickly as possible and close to their manufacturing facilities.
The reasons for this are both simple and complicated at the same time. Many Fortune 500 companies are looking to reduce their GHG emissions and meet corporate sustainability goals that stem from customer expectations and shareholder demands, but they are also motivated by the financial proposition. While a business can effectively reduce its carbon footprint by purchasing solar energy or renewable energy credits from other states, by contracting with Ohio-based renewable energy assets these companies can effectively hedge against future electricity cost escalation and drive additional economic expansion across the state. Simply put, these Fortune 500s are looking to the large pool of solar projects under development across the state as a key to their energy procurement strategy as they continue to bring new load into the state.
Now Is the Time to Act
Ohio is at a key moment. We cannot afford to miss opportunities to rebuild a more resilient economy that puts Ohio — and the United States — first. Though it may not be obvious on the surface, the global transition to electric transportation is well underway. As Ohio continues to identify areas for economic growth, the state should develop a plan to capture this opportunity.
The time to act is now. If we sit still, it will only become harder to attract future automotive supply chain investment — placing hardworking Ohioans and their families at risk. This is a risk we cannot afford to take, and one we can avoid. Let’s reshore our manufacturing potential and put the good men and women of Ohio to work in sustainable industries with good-paying jobs.
Originally published by the NRDC. By Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio Energy Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program.
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