Lithium-ion batteries: Solid state and post-LIB tech seen shifting, not solving, raw material supply problems

Lithium-ion Batteries

Roskill view: Roskill attended the Batteries 2017 conference hosted by Avicenne in Nice last week, where the mood was unsurprisingly upbeat despite a weaker-than-expected start to 2017 for the lithium-ion battery (LIB) industry. Of relevance to raw material supply and demand, there were two key themes emerging: how to reduce reliance on expensive raw materials, and the status of solid-state and post-LIB technology. Roskill’s presentation was relevant to both areas.

The impact of high cobalt prices and supply security was a central theme, and the shift to lower cobalt intensity cathode materials was described by several presenters as “progressing faster than we might have anticipated”, however this may reflect more on the growth for xEV and ESS applications in mid-Ni NMC and established NCA –based LIBs than replacement of LCO or low-Ni NMC in current applications. Research continues apace on energy dense alternatives that use less or no cobalt and nickel, but as yet materials matching NMC/NCA performance, importantly with a cost/benefit advantage, have not been found. Roskill sees lithium and nickel supply as investment and delivery challenges, but cobalt has more critical supply issues mid-term, with a large amount of uncertainty post-2021 on new sources to meet demand growth given its by-product nature.

On the other hand, research also continues into solid-state and lithium-sulphur (Li-S) batteries, which may alter the battery raw material landscape. Despite much hype, and plans for near-term commercialisation by companies like Toyota, solid-state is still the subject of much debate amongst the technical community, critically on tackling the solid-electrolyte interface (SEI) between the lithium metal anode and polymer/glass shuttling ions to/from the cathode. It is yet unclear what cathode types will win out, but solid-state technology may continue to rely on transition metals. Li-S presents other challenges, although progress on preventing polysulfide shuttling (the cause of poor cycle life) seems to be gaining traction. For lithium at least, Roskill estimates, albeit based on limited technical data, that solid-state LIB and Li-S will have almost double the lithium intensity per Wh of capacity, thanks to the lithium metal anode, but critically the complex manufacturing process for lithium metal and lithium sulphide may mean more raw material headaches for producers, not less.

Roskill’s Lithium-ion Batteries: Global Industry, Markets & Outlook report is in the process of being updated for a second edition release. For a copy of our Batteries 2017 presentation or to discuss the LIB or raw materials market with Roskill, please contact us.