The Shortage in Battery Materials that Could Hold Back the World's Plans for Electrification
The world is heading towards electrification. We’ve heard it before and we’ll keep hearing it again and again. It’s what the world needs and what many markets are striving towards. The way to make this happen? By having energy sources that don’t rely on fossil fuels and by being able to store the energy produced. A solution to all these requirements? The battery as it is doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and stores energy. However, as the need for more and more batteries increases, there are predicted shortages surrounding the market that will most probably impact and end up heavily holding back the electrification process. How can we avoid this? Enter lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries.
Where Is the World Going?
The message is loud and clear, the world needs to be more green, we need to move away from fossil fuels to go towards renewable energy and cause less pollution. A major player behind increasing levels of pollution is cars. Indeed, in the US, emissions from transportation account for around 29% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions while in the UK, the figure stands at 27% and in the EU, cars are responsible for 12% of total CO2 emissions.
The solution to this? Reducing the amount of internal combustion engine vehicles on the roads by phasing them out and replacing them with EVs. In theory, this sounds simple enough, however, as demand rises for EVs, so will the need for batteries, which means so will the need for certain materials. What happens if there isn’t enough though? Is the shortage in battery materials going to slow down the world's plans for decarbonization?
The Predicted Shortages
Simply put, batteries are made from a combination of different metals and minerals. The rise in demand for EVs means that there will also be a higher demand for batteries and the materials they are composed of. Due to these materials being found in nature, this means that their quantities are limited and can take time to get due to weak mineable resources.
As EV sales are expected to surge, the global battery demand is predicted to increase over fivefold between 2020 and 2025. Moreover, this is without the rapidly growing renewable energy production and storage industry that will require a lot of batteries in the next decade, as the world aims to move to 100% renewable energy production.
As EV makers proceed with shaking up the supply chain with new technologies and EV sales continue increasing, the demand for battery metals such as lithium is rapidly rising. Indeed, concerns over the supply of lithium have increased since the beginning of 2021 in response to the booming EV market. Consequently, it’s expected that passenger plug-in EVs will be responsible for an estimated 68.2% of global lithium demand and that the demand for lithium could increase by more than 40 times in the next two decades.
At the same time, while key battery metals such as cobalt and nickel are already facing supply chain constraints, it’s expected that by 2025, EVs will be responsible for 39.3% of cobalt demand and 12.8% of primary nickel demand. As a result, a predicted cobalt shortage will surface by 2025 while primary nickel is expected to fall into a deficit this year. Furthermore, cobalt, nickel and graphite demand could increase by 20-25 times over the next two decades which could lead to EV production and electrification coming to a halt.
The LFP Solution
With shortages of lithium, cobalt and nickel looming ahead added to increases of material prices, industry insiders and EV-makers have cause for concern. Will there be enough of the metals to be able to supply the ever-increasing EV-demand? This is where lithium iron phosphate (LFP) comes into play.
LFP is a type of lithium-ion battery using lithium iron phosphate as the cathode material, and a graphitic carbon electrode with a metallic backing as the anode. Major EV makers including Tesla believe that they can cut costs and avoid further supply constraints by replacing the nickel in the battery with other materials such as iron. As such, Elon Musk announced that Tesla was shifting its standard-range EV batteries to LFP due to the concerns surrounding nickel.
While this technology is already quite common in different applications including some EVs, Tesla and other EV manufacturers believe that LFP will become more and more present in Europe and the US. Indeed, Volkswagen AG recently announced it would be using LFP batteries in more of its EV models while Tesla is growing closer to LFP-maker, CATL. Additionally, LFP batteries are less combustible, have a longer lifespan, and improved discharge and charge efficiency, among other characteristics, than traditional battery chemistries. While these batteries need both nickel and cobalt, LFPs don’t require any, allowing battery and EV manufacturers to avoid potential supply chain issues and high costs.
Currently, the use of LFP batteries is limited and the uptake is slow due to them having lower energy density, which is estimated between 15 and 25% compared to their NMC counterparts. LFP batteries also suffer from a higher self discharge than other types of li-ion batteries, which causes issues with time. Advanced battery design, can unlock the next step-change in LFP performance and will solve the lower energy issue.
Improving LFP Batteries with Addionics
Addionics’ unique Smart 3D Electrodes have a higher surface area that allows a bigger quantity of active materials to be accommodated. By using 3D design, the amount of active material is increased while the inactive material is reduced, allowing higher conductivity and performance improvements. Indeed, this significantly lowers the internal resistance due to the highly porous metal framework that allows the contact area between the metal and the active material to reduce diffusion limitation.