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A major partnership could challenge China's grip on EV battery manufacturing — here's what it means for the US

"I'm so pleased with the productive conversations I've had."

“I’m so pleased with the productive conversations I’ve had."

Photo Credit: iStock

Like modern-day Rockefellers, Chinese energy tycoons are sucking up market share, scouring the planet for reserves of precious lithium and other metals needed to build electric vehicle batteries. 

But battery tech juggernauts in the Far East might soon have competition. A strategic alliance between Australia and Indonesia could tilt the balance of power in the clean energy arena, creating another battery source for Americans in the process, per the Asia Times. 

While China is a powerhouse in refining battery metals, Australia is the world leader in lithium mining. Data collector Statista reported that about 67,000 tons of lithium were mined Down Under last year. Indonesia is lithium-poor; however, the country has vast amounts of nickel, cobalt, and other elements, according to a report by the University of Melbourne. 

If tech companies from both countries combine resources, the result could be formidable competition. And, Indonesia officials have expressed interest in becoming a "global EV hub," per the Melbourne report. 

What's more, the extra supply route would seemingly be a boon for a U.S. Energy Department plan released last year. It, in part, seeks to "[i]nvest and support the formation of diverse, reliable, and socially responsible foreign supply chains."

Australia and the U.S. also seem committed to working together, according to news from recent meetings

"I'm so pleased with the productive conversations I've had … on how to leverage our strengths and resources," U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in an Australian government report. 

In Indonesia, officials want 20% of the nation's domestic car sales to be EVs by 2025. For Australia's part, the company has invested more than a billion dollars in battery research, development, and manufacturing advancements, according to the University of Melbourne. 

But there's work ahead for both countries, which have relatively low domestic demand. Around 15,000 EVs were sold in Indonesia in 2022, and about 15.6% of new vehicle sales were EVs in Australia last year. 

By comparison, ABC News reported that 6.9 million EVs were sold in China last year. The industry broke records in the U.S. in 2022, at 918,500 "light" EV sales, Statista reported. 

Geopolitical relations between China and Australia is another hurdle, as well as technological challenges the Aussies and Indonesians need to overcome to refine larger lithium work orders. So, including the giant elephant in the room (hello, China) instead of ignoring it, might produce the best results, the Asia Times suggested.

China headquarters the world's largest electric vehicle battery company, CATL, and oversees the refinement of 58% of the global lithium supply, 67% of cobalt, and 35% of nickel, according to the Times. 

It will likely take a global effort to reduce planet overheating. So, including the worldwide leader in EV battery-making seemingly makes sense.

"For decades, they've been locking up some of the best assets across the world and quietly going about their business and developing knowledge on building lithium-ion technology, soup to nuts. And we've been very slow to react to that," American Lithium CEO Simon Clarke told CNBC in a 2022 story about lithium supplies.

"I just think the Chinese have — I mean you have to take your hat off, they've played a great game," Clarke added

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