HOTTER ON METALS: Lithium faces challenges in EV battery race
Lithium has hogged the top spot in EV batteries for some time, largely due to its early adoption in technology developed by Tesla. For more than a decade, the US-based company has been using lithium-ion batteries to develop and produce all-electric vehicles as well as clean energy generation and storage products.
But challenges to its position have emerged from other materials – which were already being used along with lithium in the cathode part of the battery cell – such as cobalt, nickel, manganese and iron. The makeup of the anode, by contrast, is graphite, but there is also a potential challenge here.Lithium Battery Cell voltage
These threats have emerged as the lithium supply chain comes under increasing pressure amid a race by automotive manufacturers to meet ever-tightening environmental regulations and join the EV revolution.
The North American International Auto Show in the US state of Michigan this month has seen a number of announcements from companies that dramatically increase the total of EV and hybrids planned over the next several years.
Battery-grade lithium carbonate prices stand at $18.50-20 per kg on a cif China, Japan and Korea basis, according to Industrial Minerals’ latest assessment on Thursday January 18, up from $18-20 per kg at the beginning of November.
If the status quo in battery technology remains, lithium supplies will start to come under severe pressure, giving prices an additional lift. However, given the plethora of mining projects in the works, the market may eventually move into surplus.
Future lithium supplies have been even more assured following the recent ruling in Chile – ending a spat between the government and major producer SQM over royalties – that will allow the company to significantly expand production.
But technology is adapting, particularly in a drive to improve costs, meaning the current makeup of EV batteries is changing. Supply-demand fundamentals of the competing EV battery materials will be important in determining which wins, as will the relative properties of the various materials and their suitability for use.