China makes most of the world’s batteries

Senior Science and Economics Correspondent
Source: International Energy Agency • DRC = Democratic Republic of Congo. Graphite refining is only refining of natural graphite to spherical graphite (a processed version of the mineral used in batteries). Mining and processing are based on production data. Cathode, anode and batteries are based on manufacturing capacity data.

The energy transition depends on batteries and right now, China dominates almost every stage of the process of making them, a recent report from the International Energy Agency makes clear.

China’s overwhelming dominance of the battery supply chain and other critical components of the clean energy transition like electric vehicles and solar cells motivated the Biden Administration to recently increase tariffs on Chinese imports to help give American manufacturers a chance to better compete.

Batteries are a crucial component of electric vehicles and electricity systems that include variable energy sources like wind and solar. As the world tries to triple its renewable energy capacity by 2030, battery storage capacity will need to increase 14 times current levels to 1,200 gigawatts, IEA says.

The first link in the battery supply chain is mining for critical minerals including lithium, nickel, cobalt and graphite. This step is more diversified than later stages. While China is home to more than 90% of graphite mining, the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than 60% of cobalt mining and Indonesia has more than 50% of the nickel mining.

Once those metals have been extracted, they must be processed into a usable form for battery production. China’s dominance becomes more obvious here: China is home to almost two-thirds of the lithium processing in the world, virtually all graphite processing, almost 80% of cobalt processing and about a third of nickel processing.

Once the materials are processed, they are manufactured into the specific parts that go into a battery, including cathodes (the positive side of the battery) and anodes (the negative side). China makes almost 90% of cathodes and virtually all anodes, the IEA data shows.

China dominates the final stage of the process as well, producing more than 80% of the final battery cells.