Step Aside Nickel and Cobalt, LFP Is on the Market and Is Here to Stay
When it comes to EVs and energy storage systems, the battery chemistries used are different depending on the application and need. With the growth these industries have had over the last few years, many tend to opt for lithium-ion (li-on) chemistries as they charge faster, last longer and have a higher power density.
Among the different types of li-on batteries, the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, which uses LiFePO4 as a cathode material, is increasingly being opted for. With its characteristics that suit different areas of the market and by using iron that is cheaper and abundant, more and more industries are choosing LFP batteries.
Characteristics of LFP
Unlike layered cathode materials (e.g. LCO), LFP is a polyanion compound made up of more than one charged anion like PO43- . With the atoms arranged in a crystalline structure, they establish a 3D network for transport of lithium ions that differ from the 2D layered ones made from lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC). While LFP batteries have lower energy density than NMC-based batteries, they have a longer lifetime, are safer and use cheap and abundant materials.
Similar to other li-ion batteries, LFP batteries also charge and discharge by shuttling lithium ions between positive and negative electrodes. Additionally, they can provide flat discharge voltage and have extended life in the range of 2,000–3,000 full charge and discharge cycles.
Materials Needed for LFP
Where high energy lithium-ion batteries use nickel, cobalt and manganese, LFP batteries use lithium iron phosphate, a non-toxic material, as the cathode material. Indeed, supplies used in high energy batteries, such as cobalt and nickel, are increasingly in demand to power the soaring amount of EVs being produced, resulting in prospected shortages.
Due to the nature of the materials and quantities needed, even though the total system beginning of life system integration cost tends to be capped at 15% cheaper, LFP batteries can be up to 30% cheaper per $/KWh. As a result, the EV and energy storage systems industries are increasingly turning towards LFP. Indeed, automakers including VW, Tesla and Ford are increasingly leveraging LFP for EV batteries to capitalize on the lower associated costs.
More Industry Player Options for LFP
To eliminate the costly and supply-constrained cobalt and nickel used in today’s li-ion batteries, more and more companies are turning to LFP.
From EVs to storage systems, the changes are happening.
Tesla has started using LFP in China and is changing the battery cell chemistry that it uses in its standard range vehicles. This can allow Tesla to maintain current prices on its fully electric cars, while not necessarily having to raise vehicle prices, having been criticized for significant vehicle price changes in the past. Similarly, other automakers such as Volkswagen and Ford Motor have also expressed interest in LFP battery chemistry for lower-priced models.
Moreover, while Tesla currently uses LFP batteries produced in China, they are rumored to be behind Chinese battery cell manufacturer, Gotion High-Tech, and an unnamed “large US automaker”’s deal to deploy US production of LFP battery cells.
In terms of storage systems, LFP is set to overtake traditional li-ion batteries, such as NMC, as the main stationary storage chemistry within the next 10 years. Indeed, it’s expected to grow from 10% of the market in 2015 to almost 20% in 2020 to over 30% in 2030.
The rising storage demand will push manufacturers to innovate and specialize their product offerings depending on the market. Hence, they will have to focus on high cycling capabilities in addition to high frequency for the stationary storage market. This will likely mean prioritizing these factors over energy density and reliability for this market.
Improving LFP Batteries with Addionics
Though the weaker parameter of LFP batteries is the low energy density and very low electronic conductivity which need non-active conductive materials that reduce energy levels, Addonics Smart 3D Electrodes can mitigate this. By changing the battery architecture and using the 3D design, the amount of active material can be increased and the inactive material reduced. Thus, increasing the electrical contact between the metal and the active material, which is essential for performance improvements in LFP batteries.