EVs - No Nickel Needed In The Future

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the current rage in the transportation sector; and for good reason. The new electric motors that power an EV can be more than 90% efficient as compared to gas vehicles which today have efficiencies in 20-30% range. Electric motors are also simpler with fewer parts and lower maintenance costs. Wear and tear on the brakes is also minimized since braking energy can be directed to recharging the batteries rather than be lost as heat. And there's no gasoline to buy. You can charge your EV while you sleep right at your home. Indeed, with power company off-peak charging programs that may sell electric power for just 5 cents per KW hour, an EV owner can get 250-350 miles per gallon equivalent. Thus you might save 80-90% on your normal gasoline bills. And normal maintenance costs are greatly reduced since EVs have no oil to change, radiators to overheat, or spark plugs and other such things to worry about.

The fly in the EV "ointment" is that EV's need affordable, energy dense batteries. Currently, there is no battery technology that can match the energy density of gasoline. But hope is on the way.

In the past, the most energy dense EV batteries used lithium along with nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) or nickel cobalt aluminum (NCA). These so called Lithium-Ion batteries packed a fair amount of energy but can spontaneously catch fire and can easily be damaged by consistently charging them to 100%. This is why Lithium-Ion batteries are not allowed in airline checked baggage and why we need to replace our cellphones and laptops every 3 years or so. And nickel and cobalt are very expensive, which in turn produces very expensive batteries. The high cost of batteries greatly increases the cost of EV's since EV sized Lithium-Ion battery systems may cost from $20,000 to $30,000. Auto manufactures realize this and are now beginning to use lower cost lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that have no nickel or cobalt in their standard and midrange EV models. These LFP batteries are much safer and can be charged to 100% while maintaining a life span that can be 2-4 times that of a nickel/cobalt based Lithium-Ion battery.

In July of 2021, Elon Musk (Tesla) noted that Tesla is making a "long-term shift" toward cheaper LFP based battery technology for its standard / mid-range products (no nickel). In addition to lower costs, LFP batteries offer several other advantages including higher thermal stability and better cycle life. Ford CEO Jim Farley and Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess have said that their companies will use LFP batteries as well (no nickel). By eliminating nickel from the battery mix, these companies are achieving more reasonable EV cost points while increasing battery safety and improving battery life despite the decrease in power density. See https://www.mining.com/cobalt-nickel-free-electric-car-batteries-are-a-runaway-success/ and https://techcrunch.com/2021/07/28/what-teslas-bet-on-iron-based-batteries-means-for-manufacturers/.

More recently, Tesla confirmed that nearly half of all its vehicles produced in 1Q2022 are already using LFP (non-nickel based) batteries ( tesla-cdn.thron.com/static/IOSHZZ_TSLA_Q1_2022_Update_G9MOZE.pdf see page 8). Tesla is also witching to LFP Batteries for its Energy Storage Solutions ( www.tesmanian.com/blogs/tesmanian-blog/tesla-is- converting-to-use-lfp-batteries-in-the-megapack ).

In response, a number of companies have announced new LFP battery factories in the US. In February 2023, Ford announced a new LFP battery plant in Michigan saying that the new battery chemistry (LFP) offers customers value, durability, fast charging, and creates 2,500 more new american jobs (media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2023/02/13/ford-taps-michigan-for-new-lfp-battery-plant--new-battery-chemis.html). In addition, American Battery Factory is raising capital to develop am LFP battery gigafactory in Arizona (https://chargedevs.com/newswire/american-battery-factory-raises-capital-to-develop-lfp-battery-gigafactories/). Even Tesla is rumored to be planning a US LFP battery cell factory with CATL, the world's largest EV battery manufacturer (https://electrek.co/2023/03/30/tesla-rumored-us-lfp-battery-cell-factory-catl/).

This migration to LFP batteries for EVs will only increase throughout 2023 and 2024 as these new LFP US based battery manufacturing plants go into operation. Although LFP EV batteries may be about 25% less energy dense that the traditional Lithium-Ion EV battery, LFP batteries can be safely charged to 100% without loss of life/capacity over time. Indeed, Tesla and other EV manufactures recommend charging their Lithion-Ion EV batteries to only 80% to maintain their original capacity. However, LFP batteries can have 2-4 times the life of the traditional Lithium-Ion battery with only a negligable drop in range (assuming the Lithium-Ion battery is charged to 80%).

But the story does not stop there. Battery manufacturers such at Gotion recently unveiled its new lithium manganese ferrous phosphate (LMFP) battery chemistry, capable of achieving an energy density comparable to the old Lithium-Ion batteries. By adding manganese to the LFP's cell chemistry, Gotion says it has been able to achieve higher energy density at a lower weight and pack size. The company expects its new LMFP battery to cost about 20-25% less expensive the old Lithium-Ion batteries (https://electrek.co/2023/06/06/gotion-unveils-lmfp-ev-battery-it-says-can-deliver-1000-km-per-single-charge-for-a-lower-price/}.

CATL, the world's largest supplier of EV batteries, recently announced that it's launching a sodium-ion alternative for EV batteries in 2023 (no nickel, cobalt or lithium). These cells are able to recharge faster than their lithium-ion cousins, and have much better low temperature performance, a significant factor in Northern Minnesota. The energy density of sodium-ion batteries still falls short of the best lithium-ion batteries but CATL says it plans to increase energy density to be on par with LFP based batteries next year. See https://cleantechnica.com/2021/07/30/catl-reveals-sodium-ion-battery-with-160-wh-kg-energy-density/. In addition, Natron is producing very long life cycle sodium ion batteries for fixed storage applications (https://natron.energy/).

But we still need batteries with higher energy density to compete with gas based vehicles. To that end, a number of companies are working on next-generation lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery technologies that could be 2.5 - 5 times more energy dense than existing lithium nickel based batteries. See https://news.umich.edu/1000-cycle-lithium-sulfur-battery-could-quintuple-electric-vehicle-ranges/.

The Lyten company says that their lithium-sulfur batteries are safer, charge faster, perform better in low temperature environments and have much higher energy density than Li-Ion packs. See https://lyten.com/what-is-a-lithium-sulfur-battery/ as well as https://www.motortrend.com/features/lyten-lithium-sulfur-battery/.

LG Energy Solution, has said it plans to commercialize a lithium-sulfur battery in 2025 (https://english.etnews.com/20210429200001). In addition, A German startup called Theion as announced a lithium-sulfur battery for the EV market in 2025.

Talon Metals claims that nickel based batteries are a "must have" to meet the challenge of climate challenge. But nothing could be further from the truth. Going forward, new safer, low cost, high efficiency, EV batteries are storming the market, obviating the need for nickel in the EV battery supply chain.