2022 – Will higher lithium prices put an end to the trend toward LFP battery cells for electric vehicles?

Here’s what the electric car scene looked like a few years ago, before COVID: Old automakers were slow to transition to electric vehicles, producing enough “compliance cars” to satisfy government regulators, doing nothing to market them, and insisting customers didn’t want to. they. Of course, until then, everyone knew that wasn’t true – Tesla had already proven that there were plenty of customers to impress with electric cars.

A look at the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y (Source: Tesla)

We experts have a clear recipe for the problem: If automakers are serious about electric cars and start promoting them, customers will come in, the sales curve will turn into a hockey stick, and the oil squeezing will soon fade.

Fast forward to today, and automakers seem to have taken our advice — they’re promoting electric vehicles and preparing to ship them in bulk, and customers are rushing to buy them. However, the hockey stick has not yet appeared.

The request wasn’t and wasn’t really the problem. Tesla has been “production constrained” for years, and now the entire industry is facing this problem (or opportunity?).

With lithium prices soaring, Elon Musk hinted that Tesla could jump into lithium mining (YouTube: CNBC TV)

The COVID pandemic has led to poor semiconductor shortages, war in Europe has disrupted supplies of wires and other components, and soaring prices for nickel, lithium and other materials have reversed decades of slump in battery prices.

This brings us to the question of battery chemistry. Two of the most common chemicals used in electric vehicles today are nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP). The former offers better range and some other performance advantages, but the latter is less expensive and does not use the controversial cobalt.

Chinese electric car makers have favored the LFP for some time and Tesla started using LFP on some of its models in 2021. As is often the case, the automaker started a trend – other brands including VW, Ford, Stellantis and Rivian announced LFP at a cheaper price than it does. to use forms. Some industrial brakes have gone so far as to predict that NMC will eventually become a niche technology used in vehicles that require high energy density, while LFP and other cobalt-free chemicals like LNMO will move into the mainstream.

Not so fast, say some material experts. A recent report by S&P Global Commodity Insights suggests that LFP could lose its cost advantage thanks to higher lithium prices.

War and turmoil, as well as a growing demand for electric cars, have caused prices for all major battery materials to soar — cobalt has gone up about 85% over the past year and nickel has gone up about 55%. But lithium has already crossed the ceiling — according to S&P, prices for the bright white stuff have gone up more than 700% since early 2021, driving up battery pack prices.

In addition, lithium deficiency is likely to persist. Research by S&P shows that assuming all lithium projects currently in the pipeline come online as planned, there would still be a shortfall of about 220,000 tons – or about 12% of projected demand – by 2030.

Dr. says. Qichao Hu, founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based battery manufacturer SES. “Although there is an abundant amount of lithium in the Earth’s crust, it is impossible to scale up lithium mining fast enough to meet the needs of the battery.”

LFP now offers “a lower discount than you’d expect” on NCM, “and once you factor in performance factors, the decision is harder than it could have been,” a cobalt hydroxide seller told S&P. “You might want to give up some performance for the price, but it’s not much cheaper these days.”

So is the offer for LFP over? No – she may not take the lead role some expected, but she will still be part of the cast. All electric vehicle batteries use lithium, so the price hike affects all chemicals – the LFP takes a slightly stronger hit, making the price-performance trade-off less clear.

Some are more optimistic about LFP than ever. Tim Burr, president of Advanced Cell Engineering, a Florida-based company that works on LFP and LM:FP chemistry, points out that cost isn’t the only selling point. “Safety is also an important consideration, because LFP batteries do not pose the same fire hazards as NMC technology,” Lee said. LFP can also catch up in terms of energy density. ‘LFP today has [specific energy] of about 160 W/kg compared to NMC’s 260 W/kg,” says Bohr. New advanced LFP chemistry developed by Advanced Cell Engineering has [specific energy] up to 200 W / kg. “

Looking at the bigger picture, automakers and battery manufacturers have a number of chemicals to consider. “When planning battery systems, we pay attention to resilience,” one automaker told S&P. “Currently there is price parity between LFP and NCM. If LFP becomes a lot cheaper again, maybe we can prioritize production but for now we should produce NCM because it is a premium product.”

“LFP batteries will be available for entry-level vehicles but will not be approved for premium vehicles,” said the second OEM.

This aligns with comments I heard recently from Richard LeCain, director of cell engineering and operations at battery maker Britishvolt (the subject of an upcoming feature in calculated). “There is always new chemistry, new developments, new claims,” he said, stressing the need to be flexible.

Britishvolt is building a giant battery plant with a capacity of 40 GWh per year, which will be made future-proof through gradual expansion. “You’re not going to suddenly build a 40-GWh plant based on one form factor and one chemistry because as the industry evolves, some OEMs are going to want different chemicals,” LeCain said. “They want an incremental build to stay current. You should end up with a very flexible plant that can accommodate different types of chemistry and form factors to accommodate a range of clients.”

Originally published on EVANNEX. Written by Charles Morris


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