Is the US on the Way to Becoming an LFP Battery Empire?
While China currently leads the way in global lithium-ion battery (LFP) production, the Asian country is continuing to heavily invest and build additional manufacturing plants to extend and maintain its dominance of the market. Having seen the strides that China is making, the US is furthering its efforts in LFP production, in an attempt to rival and surpass the Asian superpower. As a result, battery chemistry has become one of the main topics of discussion in the corporate boardrooms of American car makers as well as in the White House.
From the government to car manufacturers, how is the US stepping up to become an LFP battery empire?
A Brief History of LFP
Invented in the 1990s, LFP technology has significantly contributed to lowering battery costs over the years, a crucial aspect of accelerating mass EV adoption. Being part of the Li-ion family, LFP batteries are more cost effective than other same-category batteries such as NMC. As such, in 2020, LFP battery pack prices dropped 89% in real time to $137/kWh compared to 2010’s $1,160/kWh. According to BloombergNEF, average prices will be close to $100/kWh by 2023, though with current supply chain limitations, this may be delayed. Once LFP batteries have reached the $100/kWh price point, BNEF expects that car makers will be able to produce and sell mass market EVs at price parity with internal combustion vehicles in certain markets.
The US Government
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting its battery industry and investing $5 million to accelerate lithium battery manufacturing and advance the workforce that goes with it. The aim is to create a secure end-to-end battery materials and technology supply chain, in order to increase production and reduce external reliance.
This initiative follows a suite of announcements by President Biden’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) as it takes action to support oil, gas and coal, and power plant communities as the country transitions towards being a clean energy economy. At the center of this decarbonization strategy lies the lithium battery. Indeed, in June 2021 the DOE announced that $200 million had been allocated to supporting the US’ battery supply chain in addition to new vehicle development including EVs. Furthermore, the American Battery Factory announced its plans in March 2022 to set up a network of LFP battery cell gigafactories to support the US storage market.
American EV Manufacturers
With China currently dominating the world’s production of new generation batteries and in an effort to be less dependent on hard-to-source cobalt, American car makers are increasingly getting into the cathode business. As US EV manufacturers are behind Asian manufacturers in terms of building electric car batteries, they are racing to develop a new generation of batteries that are cheaper, have higher energy density and can charge faster. Indeed, American car manufacturers have understood that in order to sell as many EVs as customers want, they need to be able to produce the majority of their own LFP batteries.
Becoming a battery empire has now turned into a global contest with important economic consequences for both automakers and small battery startups, in addition to car buyers, who in a few years time will be choosing from such a high amount of EVs using different kinds of batteries as decarbonization powers through. As a result, US carmakers’ ability to master battery technology will help determine which of them thrive and which of them are overtaken by EV giant, Tesla, and other major EV manufacturers. Moreover, they need to have the capabilities to produce the majority of their own LFP batteries or they could end up selling fewer EVs than existing demand.
Tesla’s CEO recently announced a major shift to LFP chemistry due to batteries being in such high demand that the industry was heading for a shortage in materials, mainly nickel and cobalt. Indeed the car manufacturer is increasingly leveraging LFP for EV batteries, avoiding potential production line issues and capitalizing on lower costs.
While Tesla started using this chemistry in its standard-range EVs in international markets such as China, it’s now using it in the US too. Last year, the EV giant announced it was “shifting to LFP battery chemistry globally” for “standard range vehicles”. This was reinforced following the release of Tesla’s Q1 2022 financial results confirming that almost half of the company’s vehicles produced in the quarter used LFP batteries. Tesla noted that the diversification of battery chemistries was essential for long-term growth, allowing the optimization of products depending on their use, and the expansion of their supplier base.
Following in the footsteps of Tesla, Ford confirmed earlier this year that it would also be using LFP batteries in the standard range battery packs for commercial EVs.
As part of its global strategy, Ford ramped up its battery supply chain to be able to sell more than 2 million EVs annually by 2026. Indeed, the American car manufacturer is investing $50 billion to scale its battery-electric portfolio through 2026. Additionally, as a cheaper alternative that can present a potential direction for the mass EV market, Ford plans to incorporate LFP batteries into its portfolio for some of its EVs. With 70% of the battery capacity needed to meet these targets already sourced, Ford predicts that using LFP will help reach the goal of producing 600,000 units by 2023 before hitting 2 million by 2026. This will include LFP battery packs from CATL for electric reissues of Ford classics including the Mustang and the F-150 Lightning.
EV-maker Rivian will use new types of battery cells in its SUVs, electric trucks and delivery vans. Indeed, for standard-level EVs, the American car manufacturer will go for LFP while it will use a high-nickel chemistry for its longer-range vehicles. Though Rivian’s first LFP cell is being sourced through a partner, the company is also working to develop in-house battery chemistries and battery production capabilities. With this in the pipeline, Rivian aims to produce 25,000 EVs in 2022 and deliver its 55,000th during the course of 2023.
LFP with Addionics
Though LFP batteries are gaining popularity among EV makers thanks to their longer lifetime, higher mechanical stability and tendency to be safer, certain drawbacks are preventing them from becoming the dominant chemistry on the market. One of them is a lower energy density compared to what is required in medium to high-end EVs to achieve a longer driving range.
As a result, LFP widespread adoption is being slowed down. However, these limitations can be mitigated by using an advanced cell design based on Smart 3D Electrodes. By reducing the amount of inactive materials and increasing electrode loading, Addionics 3D structures allow LFP batteries to deliver more power and store more energy. Indeed, as more active material is loaded with Addionics’ technology, higher energy density is achieved to allow a longer driving range. Furthermore, the 3D electrode structure contributes to reducing the internal resistance of LFP batteries to achieve faster charging times and allowing them to operate at high currents.
For these reasons, Addionics is collaborating with a number of major OEMs to develop high performing LFP batteries that will enable car makers to use this safe, cost-effective technology to power current and future EVs and fleets.