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The demand for lithium-ion batteries continues to increase, driven by the growth in hybrid and electric vehicle (xEV) production and the use of lithium-ion batteries in energy storage systems (ESS), according to a report by metals, minerals and chemical industry consultancy firm Roskill.
The transition from a market dominated by portable electronics to a market led by lithium-ion batteries in xEVs and ESS has seen the requirements for larger batteries with greater battery capacity, longevity and reliability. These changing battery requirements have catalysed the production and use of higher nickel-cathode chemistries such as NCA, NCM 532 and NCM 622.
Roskill uses their inhouse automotive model to evaluate the changing demands of lithium-ion batteries, including demands for battery components, raw material requirements, and the possible impact of new technologies such as solid-state batteries on the overall demand for battery raw materials.
The strong demand growth forecast for lithium-ion batteries however requires many individual components to be produced in order to manufacture a lithium-ion battery cell. These include cathodes, anodes, separators, electrolyte salts and solutions, copper and aluminium foils, binders and cell cases, all of which require a wide array of materials and industrial expertise. The supply chain and production processes for these materials are complex and long, involving multiples stages, with over 150 established companies producing the 9 key components required for the final battery cell product.
The focus of the lithium-ion battery supply chain has been solidly centred in the Asian market, with over 87 per cent of lithium-ion battery cell producers profiled located in Asia, though several producers plan to construct new manufacturing facilities in Europe and the USA. These expansions will ultimately adjust to evolving demand, especially from the automotive industry. Nevertheless, while many market analyses only consider plug-in EVs, other types of electric vehicles such low speed EVs (LSEV) and mild hybrids (48V) must be also considered to obtain a better demand perspective.
Regulatory changes across all regions have accelerated the development and uptake of xEVs, with emissions standards, subsidies and incentives; and potential bans on the sale of combustion vehicles influencing automaker investments, future models and consumer choice. The on-going trend is considered irreversible, as OEMs and component manufacturers have invested heavily in production infrastructure and research and development capabilities for xEVs. Transportation and energy sectors will need to become cleaner, and lithium-ion batteries are currently the most suitable instrument to achieve that end.
In 2018, China remained the largest market for xEVs, with sales surpassing 1.0M units for the first time. China has supported the production and sales of xEVs in its domestic market through a series of subsidies and incentives, resulting in both cash or non-cash benefits. These subsidies were changed in January 2019 to reduce the benefits applied to lower range xEVs, impacting vehicles with ranges under 200km. As manufacturers now look to target vehicles with longer ranges to still qualify for subsidies, the requirements of lithium-ion batteries and the demand for the raw materials used in their manufacture is ever-changing.
The demand for raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase exponentially, as a result of both sales volumes and changing requirements for battery components. Lithium demand from lithium-ion batteries is forecast to grow by 26 per cent per year in the years to 2028, increasing from 136.7kt lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) to in excess of 1.4Mt LCE. Demand for nickel and cobalt will also experience considerable demand growth albeit their feedstock availability may be compromised. Beyond feedstock, the previous minerals and other relatively abundant materials as graphite and copper will face challenges, especially in the conversion capacity to process them into battery-grade materials.
Tesla’s competition is about to get more crowded next year with many legacy automakers and luxury brands launching a record number of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
All EV makers will have one common element that could help lift demand for battery vehicles—rising oil prices leading to fuel prices at four-year highs, which could turn consumers towards EVs.
To be sure, charging infrastructure and range are still key concerns in consumers’ minds regarding EVs, but utilities and major oil firms such as Shell and BP are already looking to expand the charging infrastructure, especially in Europe.
Battery pack prices have been dropping constantly this decade and are expected to continue to fall. In terms of cost comparison, some estimates point to battery pack costs becoming competitive with the internal combustion engine (ICE) cars by 2027.
Rallying oil prices, with Brent Crude topping $85 a barrel this week, come just as the number of global offerings of EVs next year is expected to rise by 20 percent to 216 models, research by Bloomberg NEF shows.
“The higher the price of oil the more tailwind we’re going to have behind electric cars,” Bloomberg quoted Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Renault and Nissan Motor, as saying at the Paris Motor Show this week.
Next year, Nissan will launch the sale of a longer-range model of its best-selling EV Leaf.
German carmakers are also jumping into the EV competition.
Mercedes-Benz unveiled last month its first all-electric model Mercedes-Benz EQC, which will be launched on the market in 2019. BMW is teasing the premiere of a new concept EV, BMW Vision iNEXT. Audi has started mass production of the Audi e-tron, the brand’s first all-electric SUV, and deliveries are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019.
Ultra-luxury brands will also be offering electric vehicles. Aston Martin is building Rapide E with a target range of over 200 miles and projected top speed of 155 mph, with customer deliveries set for Q4 2019. Porsche is working on its first purely electric series, Taycan, and plans to invest more than US$6.9 billion (6 billion euro) in electromobility by 2022, doubling its initially planned expenditure.
While almost every carmaker out there is unveiling or planning EV models, gasoline prices are up and even after the end of the U.S. driving season, the national gas price average as of October 1 was $2.88 – a pump price not seen since mid-July.
“The last quarter of the year has kicked off with gas prices that feel more like summer than fall,” AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano said.
“This time of year, motorists are accustomed to seeing prices drop steadily, but due to continued global supply and demand concerns as well as very expensive summertime crude oil prices, motorists are not seeing relief at the pump.”
High fuel prices could be part of consumers’ motivation to buy more EVs.
Global cumulative EV sales are already 4 million, according to Bloomberg NEF, which notes that the time for reaching each of the million sales has been rapidly shrinking. The first million in sales, reached in Q4 2015, took around 60 months to achieve; the second million came in 17 months; the third million took 10 months; and the fourth million needed just six months. Bloomberg NEF expects the next million EVs to take just over 6 months and the five-millionth EV to be sold in March next year.
The EV share of the global car fleet is still minuscule, considering that the world’s stock of cars is 1.2 billion units. But battery costs and range are less and less the stumbling blocks in EV adoption, according to Wood Mackenzie. Battery is one third of the cost of an EV today. Yet, costs have already declined by 80 percent this decade and will fall further. Battery pack prices will drop below US$200/kWh this year and then fall by around 10 percent each year, WoodMac said in July.
EVs will displace around 5 million bpd to 6 million bpd of oil demand by 2040—some 5 percent of total oil demand, the consultancy has estimated.
ICE cars are not going anywhere in the next decade or two, but the higher the price of oil, the more competition they’ll have from EVs and the more incentives consumers will get to pick an EV for their next new car.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com