Industry experts warned the UK government on Tuesday against its strategy on batteries for EV manufacturing, and the risks of being totally dependent on Chinese supply of critical materials, Kallanish reports.

“This is not a free market. This is a geopolitical-monopolised market,” Jeff Townsend, founder of the Critical Minerals Association tells the UK Parliamentary Business and Trade Committee. He adds China has already weaponised such materials, citing an event in February when companies with ties to Taiwan were sanctioned.

“They can already manipulate prices; they have legislation to ban exports; they have control of the midstream,” says Townsend. “I truly hope it never happens, but if we don’t prepare for it; and if we don’t build an alternative, then we’re putting ourselves at risk – and that’s not just electric vehicles… At the moment, we are totally dependent on China, and that seems to me like it is a very very silly position to be in.”

The experts, giving oral evidence on the UK situation around batteries for EV manufacturing, all emphasised the country needs more than words to spur a domestic EV supply chain. The country needs financial support to attract investment and compete with incentives given in the US and Europe. “Without the money, it’s just words,” adds Townsend.

Jeremy Wrathall, ceo of Cornish Lithium, was emphatic to defend the lithium mining commercial opportunity the UK has in Cornwall, southwest England. “The difficulty is raising money for an industry in the UK… the UK needs to be seen to be serious about it,” he says.

De-risking large-scale investment in the EV supply chain through effective financial support is key, but energy prices, which are still higher than in mainland Europe, still remains a barrier to battery gigafactories. The experts also note that the UK has failed to secure a new gigafactory construction, because it doesn’t have a supply chain in place. “We’re not doing enough; we need more midstream in the supply chain,” says Townsend.

He explains that the traditional economics models don’t work in the EV battery industry development. “You can’t expect to build the downstream and have the midstream/upstream to happen. You have to build it all at once,” he adds.

Simon Moores, ceo of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, says the UK is a “bystander” in the global battery arms race having “missed the boat twice.” To be a serious industrial player in this EV and lithium-ion economy, the UK needs to enter 2030 with 175 gigawatt-hours of cell capacity, ideally from at least three active gigafactories from Tier-1 battery makers and one gigafactory from a UK start-up, he forecasts in written evidence.

That would require about 210,000 tonnes of graphite anode, 140,000 t of lithium carbonate equivalent, 142,000 t of nickel, 20,000 t of cobalt and 18,000 t of manganese – based on NCM chemistry. If LFP technology is added to the mix, then the tonnage of nickel, cobalt and manganese would be reduced, he adds.

China is estimated to hold 80% of global cathode production, 91% of anode and 70% of cell production capacity. It’s also in charge of around 45% of global lithium chemical production, 75% cobalt refining, 70% nickel sulphate production, 95% of manganese refining, 100% of spherical graphite and 70% of synthetic graphite.