Future Supply for EV Battery Materials

Future Supply for EV Battery Materials

To control the terms of obtaining materials for EV batteries and securing contracts for supplies for years at set costs, Tesla has exercised exceptional power. These dynamics are being changed by legacy automakers' strong push into the electric vehicle market and concerns about the shortage of lithium and other essential minerals like nickel and graphite. 

With South Korea's Posco Chemical, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis are in discussions about possibly investing in facilities in North America that make materials for electric vehicle batteries. The plants will produce cathode-active or anode materials, which are essential components for figuring out the energy density of lithium-ion batteries used in cars. The early discussions may or may not result in a deal. With the signing of a $10.8 billion contract to provide battery materials in July, Posco expanded its existing partnership with GM to roughly $17 billion in total.

Ford is investing $50 billion in its shift to EVs, with ambitions to create 2 million cars a year by 2026, while GM is investing $35 billion to make its lineup entirely electric by 2035. By 2030, 5 million vehicles should be sold annually thanks to 75 fully electric versions from Stellantis, the company that makes Jeep off-roaders and Ram pickup trucks.

Fully electric Jeep SUV

This week, Posco Chemical finished expanding its cathode-active materials production in the South Korean city of Gwangyang. The plant is the largest in the world and has the capacity to produce materials for one million electric vehicles annually with a capacity of 90,000 tons.

Recycling is the part of the solution

Because of the quick transition to EVs, suppliers of batteries and the metals they contain are becoming a crucial area of competition for automakers. Materials scientists are tackling two significant problems in preparation for a world where electric vehicles predominate. One is how to reduce the amount of battery-related metals that are expensive, difficult to obtain, or problematic due to the high environmental and social costs associated with their mining. Another is to enhance battery recycling to effectively utilize the valuable metals found in used automobile batteries. The combination will heavily emphasize recycling.

Electric vehicle battery manufacturing and recycling costs have already been reduced by billions of dollars due to government incentives and the anticipation of upcoming restrictions. Centers to discover more effective ways to produce and recycle batteries have also been established by national research funders. One important objective is to create methods to recover valuable metals cheaply enough to compete with newly mined ones because it is still generally cheaper to mine metals than to recycle them.

What’s in the battery?

Researchers' first task is to lessen the quantity of metals that must be mined for EV batteries. A single automotive lithium-ion battery pack (of the type known as NMC532) may contain 8 kilograms of lithium, 35 kg of nickel, 20 kg of manganese, and 14 kg of cobalt, though exact amounts depend on the battery type and vehicle model.

Lithium-ion batteries won't be replaced any time soon, according to analysts, as their price has dropped so sharply that they are expected to remain the dominant technology for the near future. Even though their performance has increased, they are now 30 times less expensive than when they were initially introduced to the market as tiny, portable batteries in the early 1990s.

The rise in lithium mining raises its own environmental issues because existing methods of extraction consume a lot of energy or water (for lithium derived from rock) (for extraction from brines). However, more recent methods that use geothermal energy to extract lithium from geothermal water are thought to be safer. Despite this cost to the environment, mining lithium will help replace harmful fossil fuel extraction.

Thousands of cells are used to construct the battery packs in EVs, and electronics control charging and discharging. Some machines have an active cooling system to stop overheating. A battery pack can carry many kilograms of priceless metals. Researchers want to lower the quantity needed in future designs and make recycling them simpler.