The supply of the raw and refined materials needed for the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries is becoming as strategic as oil supplies changing the landscape for the automotive, energy and electronics industries and their supply chains globally
Lithium-ion batteries have become the dominant battery technology in major markets, such as portable electronics, automotive and energy storage systems, out-competing other battery technologies such as nickel metal hydride (NiMH), nickel cadmium (NiCd) and lead-acid. Between 2015 and 2018, shipments of lithium-ion batteries have increased by 24%py in terms of battery capacity, reaching over 148,000MWh. In comparison battery capacity of NiMH batteries shipped totalled below 10,000MWh and NiCd batteries below 1,000MWh in 2018. There has been significant investment by incumbent and new battery producers into constructing additional manufacturing capacity to meet demand. Major battery producers plan to invest over US$50Bn in expanding manufacturing capacity over the next 5 years in China, the USA and Europe, which is scheduled to increase annual battery capacity production to over 1.2TWh by 2030.
The use of lithium-ion batteries in portable electronics toward the end of the 20th century saw the introduction of lithium-ion battery technology to the mass market. Whilst portable electronics formed the first wave of demand, remaining an important end-use market for lithium-ion batteries in 2018, the industry has undergone a renaissance with the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in hybrid and electric vehicles. Automotive applications accounted for over 70% of total lithium-ion battery shipments in 2018, compared to just 43% in 2015 and 6% in 2010. The growth in automotive applications is forecast to maintain a rapid pace, with shipments increasing by in excess of 30%py through to 2030.
Lithium-ion batteries are a complicated assemblage of materials, with metal and mineral use highest in the active cathode material, active anode material, collectors and cell hardware parts. Chemicals and plastics are more intensively used in binders, solvents, electrolytes (salts and solutions) and separators, but additives such as lithium hexafluorphosphate creep in to provide vital functions.
The increased size, capacity, power, longevity and safety requirements from automotive applications compared to other end-uses has resulted in a shift in the battery materials required, most notably in cathode materials. The increase demands on nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) and nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) in automotive applications has seen chemistries shift to higher nickel ratios, such as NCM 6:2:2 and NCM 8:1:1, increasing energy density at the expense of some cycle life and increased cost for battery management systems. Similarly, anode materials have also evolved to maximise battery performance and longevity with increasing amounts of silicon and tin doping in graphite anodes and the use of lithium-titanate anode materials in some battery cells.
As demand for lithium-ion batteries continues to grow, the strain placed upon the raw material supply chain is expected to be significant. The wide range of raw materials required including lithium, cobalt, nickel sulphate, copper, aluminium and graphite, and changes to supply chains are inevitable.
The 3rd Edition of the Lithium-ion Batteries report draws upon Roskill’s more than 50 years of experience in analysing metal and mineral markets, including major battery raw material markets, along with our in-house automotive and lithium-ion battery models.