Battery cells are an area of focus with rising demand for electric vehicles.
Rising demand for electric vehicles has been boosting the demand for battery cells and pack manufacturing. As a result, automotive battery makers or suppliers have been focusing on research and development, which has helped to reduce battery costs. The cost of EV batteries has decreased in the past decade due to technological advancements and the production of EV batteries on a mass scale in large volumes. This has led to a decrease in the cost of electric vehicles as EV batteries are one of the vehicle’s most expensive components.
Battery demand for EVs doubled in 2021
Automotive lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery demand was 340 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2021, more than twice the level of 2020. This increase is driven by the rise in electric passenger cars (registrations increased by 120%). The average battery capacity of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) was 55 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2021, down from 56 kWh in 2020. In contrast, the average capacity increased for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to 14 kWh in 2021, up from 13 kWh in 2020. Battery demand for other transport modes, including medium- and heavy-duty trucks and two/three-wheelers, increased by 65%.
Nickel-based battery chemistries remain dominant
A key defining feature of batteries is their cathode chemistry, which determines battery performance and material demand. For the automotive sector, three broad categories of cathode chemistry are most relevant today:
- lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC);
- lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA);
- and lithium iron phosphate (LFP).
NMC and NCA cathodes have become increasingly dominant as they offer high energy density based on higher nickel content in the cathode. Higher nickel content, however, requires more complex and controlled production processes. LFP is a lower cost and more stable chemistry, with a lower risk of catching fire and longer cycle life. It typically only has 65 – 75% of the energy density compared with a high-nickel NMC such as NMC811, although recent technology innovations have significantly improved their energy density.
Battery metal prices increased dramatically in early 2022, posing a significant challenge to the EV industry
EV battery technology
The EV battery is migrating to higher energy density, longer life cycles and enhanced thermal stability, with NCM / LFP batteries commanding energy density of ~ 750 Wh per litre by 2023, with silicon mixture in anode potentially rising to 5-10% (NCM case). Beyond 2025, we expect the industry to shift to 800 Wh per litre (400 Wh per kg).
The leading nickel-based battery producers are taking the following course of action in improving battery energy density:
- maximizing nickel content to above 90%.
- commercializing single crystal cathode, which enhances mechanical strength and thermal stability while raising energy density.
- high voltage/ high manganese.
- cobalt-free to reduce cost.
- modified LFP in the form of pre-lithiation (minimizing lithium losses when using silicon anode, etc).