Electric Vehicle Battery Materials
Figure 1 – Electric Vehicle on Fire
What Can Silicon Valley Do About EV Battery Sourcing Issues?
Most electric vehicle batteries are lithium based and rely on a mix of cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite and other primary components, can be very dangerous, battery fires could occur (See Figure 1). Some of these materials are harder to find than others, though none should be classified as “rare earth metals” ( https://www.glewengineering.com/the-impact-of-chinese-export-restrictions-on-rare-earth-elements/) . Over 60% of the global supply for cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has a poor human rights track record; international organizations have denounced for years the exploitative labor practices involved in cobalt production. Cobalt deposits can be found throughout the world and are most prominent in the African Copper Belt with over 60% of global cobalt production from a single country – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). China controls the majority of refined global cobalt output and is reliant on the DRC for over 90% of its cobalt supply. In 2016 approximately 60% of cobalt mined was as a by-product of copper, 38% as a by-product of nickel, and the remaining 2% from primary cobalt mines.
First: Companies must be held accountable for enacting and enforcing policies to only use ethically-sourced materials. Some companies are off to a good start. Tesla, for example, has committed to sourcing materials only from North America for its battery production facility and battery supplier LG Chem claims they have stopped using conflict-sourced cobalt.
Second: Recycling can help reduce the need to search for battery materials. Cobalt is fully recyclable and roughly 15 percent of U.S. cobalt consumption is from recycled scrap today.
Third: Battery technology is continuing to improve. Lithium-titanate and lithium-iron-phosphate, for example, are gaining importance in the EV market and don’t need cobalt. Other battery chemistries that rely on magnesium, sodium, or lithium-sulfur are also gaining traction as they have the potential to beat lithium-ion batteries potential to beat lithium-ion batteries on energy density and cost.
(Figure 1) Union of Concerned Scientists (Scientist for a Health Planet and Safer World, March 2018)
How Much Do Batteries Cost?
The price of lithium-ion batteries has fallen steeply as their production scale has increased and manufacturers have developed more cost-effective methods. (See Figure 2 Below) EVs are forecast to cost the same or less than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle when the price of battery packs falls to between $125 and $150 per kWh. Analysts have forecast that this price parity can be achieved as soon as 2020, while other studies have forecast the price of a lithium-ion battery pack to drop to as little as $73/kWh by 2030.
How Long Do They Last?
Like the engines in conventional vehicles, the advanced batteries in EVs are designed for a long life, easily charged, but will wear out eventually (See Figure 2. Below). Currently, most manufacturers are offering 8-year/100,000-mile warranties for their batteries. Nissan is providing additional battery capacity loss coverage for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Manufacturers have also extended their coverage in states that have adopted the California emissions warranty coverage periods, which require at least 10-year coverage for batteries on partial zero-emissions vehicles (which include EVs).
Electric Vehicle Battery Safety
EVs must undergo the same rigorous safety testing and meet the same safety standards required for conventional vehicles sold in the United States as well as EV-specific standards for limiting chemical spillage from batteries, securing batteries during a crash, and isolating the chassis from the high-voltage system to prevent electric shock. In addition, EVs tend to have a lower center of gravity than conventional vehicles, making them less likely to roll over and often improving ride quality.
Fig.2 Electric Vehicle Charging at Post