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Q&A: Pros and cons of proposed EPA vehicle emissions standards

The Biden administration has taken positive steps to support battery production through incentives, tax credits, and cost-sharing, primarily benefiting established lithium-ion battery companies.

Encouraging the uptake of electric cars is part of the French government's new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Encouraging the uptake of electric cars is part of the French government's new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - Copyright /File Brendan Smialowski
Encouraging the uptake of electric cars is part of the French government's new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - Copyright /File Brendan Smialowski

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new federal vehicle emissions standards in April to accelerate the transition to clean transportation. These standards aim to improve air quality, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2055, and decrease health issues caused by pollutants.

Meeting these standards will demand investments in infrastructure, battery materials, and alternative technologies, with the Buy America initiative playing a vital role in promoting domestic production while addressing supply chain challenges, particularly for materials like lithium-ion. As polling data indicates, overcoming the obstacle of convincing more Americans to adopt electric vehicles (EVs) involves addressing concerns such as high costs and limited public charging options.

Digital Journal interviewed Matthew West, Head of Marketing at Alsym Energy, a battery technology company focused on affordable, non-flammable, non-lithium batteries, to explore the feasibility of these goals and the required steps for U.S. manufacturing.

Digital Journal: What are the potential benefits of the EPA’s proposed standards?

Matthew West: Reducing vehicle emissions, especially in densely populated areas, directly allows communities to improve public health. We’ve seen something similar happen when they got rid of lead in gasoline. This reduction is crucial for economically and socially disadvantaged communities near ports and transit hubs disproportionately affected by higher emissions. While ambitious, the proposed standards also have the potential to reduce global carbon emissions significantly, and their feasibility requires separate consideration.

DJ: Do consumers save money under these proposed standards?

West: Implementing these standards may increase car prices and limit cost savings – at least at the start – due to fluctuations and uncertainty in lithium-ion battery prices, potentially driving up car prices and exacerbating affordability challenges in the automotive market, where prices have risen over 30 percent since the pandemic began. With the average new car price exceeding $45,000 and the average EV exceeding $60,000, battery-centric approaches may hold the opposite effect – increasing demand for older used vehicles. Given evolving market conditions and supply chain dynamics, careful assessment of consumer savings is necessary.

DJ: What challenges does U.S. manufacturing face in scaling up to 67 percent electric by 2032, and how can they overcome them?

West: The U.S. heavily relies on China and South Korea for finished batteries, with Chinese companies refining 95 percent of the required manganese, 70 percent of the graphite, and 67 percent of the lithium. Developing mining and refining capabilities for raw materials will take time, emphasizing the importance of supporting companies working on cost-effective battery technologies from US and EU Free Trade Zone countries. Diversifying the supply chain is crucial to accelerate progress, achieve electrification goals, and establish battery self-sufficiency. Public and private sector support for new technologies is vital to eliminate vulnerabilities and establish a sustainable battery manufacturing ecosystem in the U.S.

DJ: What’s Alsym Energy’s view on the Buy America initiative in achieving this goal?

West: The Buy America initiative is critical for building a zero-carbon electrified future that ensures national security, self-sufficiency, and job retention. By electrifying various sectors and reducing dependence on other countries, we create jobs domestically and support the economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics projects a 17 percent employment increase in the electric vehicle battery and charger manufacturing industry, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy. Developing a robust domestic battery industry enables the retraining of skilled workers and fosters long-term sustainability, economic growth, and expertise retention within the United States.

DJ: What infrastructure is needed to support this transition?

West: With current domestic production only capable of meeting raw material needs for around 3 percent of total EV battery demand, expanding infrastructure for lithium-ion batteries requires significant efforts, like establishing new mines and refining capacity. To bridge this gap, approximately 500 mines and refining facilities would need to be developed in the U.S., raising concerns about the impacts. Technologies like ours at Alsym Energy can leverage existing mining and refining infrastructure, minimizing the demand for extensive expansions, reducing environmental damage, and maximizing the potential of current resources.

DJ: How can the Biden administration support alternate battery development?

West: The Biden administration has taken positive steps to support battery production through incentives, tax credits, and cost-sharing, primarily benefiting established lithium-ion battery companies. The administration has also committed funds to universities and institutions researching new materials and processes that could underpin new products. There is a funding gap for private companies and start-ups with proprietary IP, hindering competition and the development of alternative battery chemistries. Addressing the need for financial assistance at critical stages is essential for fostering innovation and protecting intellectual property.

DJ: What are the hurdles in promoting EV adoption among the U.S. population, and how can they be addressed?

West: Price and range anxiety are significant hurdles to convincing more Americans to switch to EVs. Affordability is vital, as studies show that people prefer EVs when prices are comparable to gasoline cars. Surveys show that consumers who switch to EVs aren’t returning to internal combustion cars. Battery technology should focus on cost reduction so EVs can reach pricing parity with conventional vehicles. Regarding range anxiety, most Americans drive fewer than 40 miles per day. In the short term, increasing production of mild or plug-in hybrids with small batteries offering 40-50 miles of battery range could put more electrified cars into more driveways at more reasonable prices than 100 percent electric vehicles, significantly lowering emissions while also helping to alleviate range anxiety.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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