Li-Ion battery supply chain: Growing pains or gains?

Reviewing the state of lithium-ion batteries

While there has been steady growth in the adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), mass adoption requires improvements to both range and cost. Improved performance and cost of Li-ion batteries (LIBs) plays a big role in providing this and considerable investment is being poured into the research and development of the next generation of LIBs.

CATL have reportedly begun production of NMC 811 batteries and the material is being actively developed by other manufacturers such as SK Innovation and LG Chem, though issues remain regarding safety and cycle life.

Solid-state electrolytes are also being actively researched by many, with Toyota aiming to release a solid-state battery car ready for the 2020 summer Olympics.

Will prices continue to fall?

The shift to higher nickel cathodes will alter the synthesis process and precursor materials needed, while the cost of the metals needed, including cobalt, lithium and nickel are subject to price variations. For example, the price of cobalt increased to a 10 year high of $95/kg in 2018 before dropping to approximately $26/kg in the July 2019. An August 2019 announcement for a planned closure to a Glencore mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contributed to a recent price spike.

Recycling as a solution

The question remains whether supply can meet the demand from forecasted growth of EVs. Certainly, LIB price reductions will not be possible if there is a shortage in material supply.

Recycling could provide battery manufacturers an alternative path to securing a sustainable supply of materials. It could also allow manufacturers to limit the environmental impact of battery production and negate the ethical concerns around mining.

In any case, by 2030 there will be huge volumes of end-of-life batteries that will have to be dealt with and they cannot just be landfilled.

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