What is the way out for battery materials 10 years later

What is the way out for battery materials 10 years later?


Although the application scale of ternary battery materials, especially high-nickel cathode materials, is far from reaching the peak, is it too early to consider the future of ternary materials using in ternary lithium battery now? Power battery is the foundation of the development of new energy vehicles in China. This article will detail the trends of battery materials.

Core arguments for battery materials

Cobalt and nickel resources used for power lithium batteries will be in short supply around 2030, and the development of ternary materials in battery materials will inevitably be unsustainable. The future new cathode materials in battery materials must be a high potential battery materials better than the current embedded cathode materials. The adaptation of silicon-based materials with new cathode materials should not only improve their energy density, but also greatly reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

Electric vehicles need power sources. The specific energy, life, safety and price of power batteries are crucial to the development of pure electric vehicles, and lithium-ion battery has the advantages of high specific energy, low self-discharge and long life, which is the most practical electric vehicle battery. After more than 20 years of technological advances, the performance of LIBs has been greatly improved.

The specific energy density in lithium battery packs has increased nearly trifold, from less than 200Wh / L to more than 700Wh / L. The production cost is about 3% of the original, and the current controllable production cost is less than 150$ / kWh. But that is still above the DOE’s planned target of 100$ / kWh. The current power battery of 50-100KW.h weighs about 600 kg, and the volume is also about 500 L.

The surge in lithium-ion battery production

Because the energy density of lithium batteries is now close to the theoretical maximum, the energy density of LIBs is gradually slowing down. The rapid growth of the battery market makes LIBs cutting prices even more out of reach. Conversely, the surge in lithium-ion battery production over the past two years has almost twice-quadrupled the price of cobalt using as battery materials, ranging from $22 to $81 per kilogram. Rising market demand and rapid increases in prices have encouraged some producers to cut corners and violate environmental and safety regulations.

In China, for example, dust released from graphite mines has damaged crops, contaminated villages and drinking water. In Africa, some miners exploit children, often breaking the law in small mines that lack gas masks and other protective equipment. Some companies, including BMW, have set up strict policies to push their cobalt suppliers, while other electric car makers do not. The simplest solution to battery materials is to develop cheap conversion-type of electrodes for commonly used metals such as iron and copper.

The most promising conversion-type cathode materials in battery materials, such as the fluoride or silicon of copper or iron. They chemically store lithium, but the technology is still in its early stages. Stability, charging speed, and manufacturing problems must be overcome for practical applications. Experts call on material scientists, engineers and funding agencies to prioritize the research and development of electrodes based on rich elements. Otherwise, the promotion of electric cars will be hit hard in a decade.

Low concentration ore and production cost price relationship

Nickel and cobalt are scarce and expensive

In current commercial batteries for electric vehicles, lithium-ions, using as battery materials, are bound in tiny voids in the crystals that make up the electrodes (these are called intercalated electrodes). The anode is usually made of graphite, and the cathode electrode is made of metal oxides.

Common ternary cathode materials using as battery materials include nickel-cobalt-aluminum oxide (NCA, e.g. LiNi0.8Co0.15Al0.05O2) or nickel-cobalt-manganese oxide (NCM, e.g. LiNi0.6Co0.2Mn0.2O2 or LiNi0.8Co0.1Mn0.1O2). The 100kg lithium-ion power battery materials using as cathode electrode usually requires 6 to 12 k g of cobalt and 36 to 48 k g of nickel.

In battery materials, cobalt, usually a by-product of copper and nickel mining, also requires complex processes to be separated from other metals. Most deposits contain only 0.003% of cobalt metal, and few cobalt deposits are so concentrated that they are worth mining. So, although out of the 1,015 tons of cobalt stored on earth, only 107 tons can be used. Similarly, only 108 tons out of the world’s 1,015 tons of nickel reserves are commercially available to battery materials.

Nickel and cobalt are scarce and expensive

As battery materials, cobalt-rich minerals are now found in only a few places. The African Congo (DRC) provides half of the global total (56%) of the 148,000 tonnes of cobalt in 2015. Most of that goes to China, which has 200,000 to 400,000 tonnes of cobalt stocks. Australia has 14% of the world’s cobalt reserves and can already be mined from the deep seabed, but such costs, ecological and economic costs are too high to be fully exploited.

Similarly, nickel production is dominated by more than a dozen countries. In 2017, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada, New Caledonia, Russia and Australia jointly supplied 72% of the world’s 2.1 million tons in tonnes of ore. But less than a tenth of this is used in lithium batteries as battery materials; the rest is used mainly for steel and electronics.

Although the extraction cost of nickel is lower than that of cobalt, the demand growth has raised the price of nickel by about 50% from $9 to $14 per kilogram since 2015. In battery materials, both cobalt and nickel have experienced sudden price increases and collapse. For example, supply disruption in Australia, Chinese demand for steel increased, and speculation by hedge fund managers tripled nickel prices, while cobalt tripled in 2008-2009.

Cobalt and nickel shortages expected

If that continues, cobalt and nickel will have a supply gap within 20 years. As demand for LIBs continues to grow, cobalt is expected to fall by 2030 and nickel could be out of stock by 2037. Although we can mine poor quality ore, higher processing costs will push up cobalt-nickel prices.

conversion electrodes vs conventional electrodes

Electric manufacturers and the government expect to produce 10 million to 20 million electric vehicles a year by 2025. If each car battery needs 10kg of cobalt as battery materials, electric cars alone will need 100,000 to 200,000 tons of cobalt a year by 2025, most of the world’s production today. Similarly, 400,000-800,000 tons of nickel are needed per year, equivalent to 20-40% of all metals today. More batteries are needed when power batteries are used by trucks, buses, aircraft, ships and motorcycle battery.

By 2050, 500-800,000 tons of cobalt will be required to produce 50-80 million electric vehicles per year. After 2030, this will far exceed current mining capacity. Likewise, by 2050, the demand for nickel will increase by 2-3 times. Shortages of nickel will be apparent by mid-2030, and recycling will not be able to replenish supplies. Because the life of lithium-ion battery is 15-20 years, which is 3 times that of lead-acid battery 5-7 years. Once supply peaks, the estimated price of electric car batteries could rise by more than $1,000.

What is the way out for the future of battery materials

The answer is to use conventional metals (iron, copper) to produce lithium-ion battery materials for cathode electrode. Iron, for example, is cheap (as low as 6 cents / kg) and abundant (76 billion tons). Because both traditional iron-rich materials (LiFePO4) and manganese-rich materials (LiMnO2 or LiMn2O4), using as battery materials, have a variety of defects in use, the most promising alternative is to use a “replacement cathode material” in the electrode.If you want to know more about the cathode materials, please read the Top 5 lithium iron phosphate cathode material companies in China in 2022 in our website. Copper / iron fluoride and silicon can chemical-react with lithium-ions to achieve lithium storage, and can hold six times more energy than the standard cathode electrode.

Mechanism of conversion cathode material: Its electrochemical conversion reaction is a new lithium storage mechanism different from the traditional lithium-ion intercalation/extraction reaction. There are multiple electron transfers in the reaction process, so the electrode materials in battery materials based on the electrochemical conversion reaction mechanism have very high theoretical specific capacity.

What is the way out for the future of battery materials

This kind of electrode material mainly consists of the transition metal oxide, sulfide or fluoride, among which the transition metal fluoride has a high working potential due to its strong ionic bond. This type battery materials is more suitable for the cathode material of lithium-ion battery. Among them, silicon-based materials are very suitable for matching.

Once these two battery materials are used successfully, the batteries that power electric vehicles could be cut in half, while cost, weight and volume could be cut in half or more. But to achieve this goal, battery researchers need to develop high-performance fluoride materials and more efficient electrolytes. Engineers need to work hard to develop equipment and processes that use these materials.

In addition, the batteries made of conversion materials as battery materials have some shortcomings, such as low conductivity and poor rate performance; serious side reactions between the conversion material and the electrolyte; the cathode and anode SEI films are thicker and have voltage hysteresis. The expansion and contraction of the electrode is more serious after charging.

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