Technology Development’s Impact on the Li-Ion Supply Chain

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While there has been steady growth in the adoption of battery electric vehicles, mass adoption requires improvements to both range and cost. Improved performance and cost of Li-ion batteries plays a big role in providing this and considerable investment is being poured into the research and development of the next generation.

CATL have reportedly begun production of NMC 811 batteries and the material is being actively developed by other manufacturers such as SK Innovation and LG Chem, though issues remain regarding safety and cycle life. Solid-state electrolytes are also being actively researched by many, with Toyota aiming to release a solid-state battery car ready for the 2020 summer Olympics.

News items on the next battery breakthrough or iteration are a regular occurrence. Understanding the future of the Li-ion supply chain requires clarity on the technologies and chemistries that will be used over the coming decade.

An analysis of the technical challenges and market activity for key developments allows a technology outlook to be mapped, evaluating the evolving shares that different LIB chemistries and technologies will hold from 2020-2030.

Will prices continue to fall as they have done? The shift to higher nickel cathodes will alter the synthesis process and precursor materials needed, while the cost of the metals needed, including cobalt, lithium and nickel are subject to price variations. For example, the price of cobalt increased to a 10 year high of $95/kg in 2018 before dropping to approximately $26/kg in the July 2019. An August 2019 announcement for a planned closure to a Glencore mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contributed to a recent price spike. IDTechEx’s report looks at the impact of price variations and presents a cost breakdown, accounting for material intensities, component and material costs and cell performance. A battery price forecast is also presented, based on historical price and volume data, increasing economies of scale, improving cell performance and the underlying bill of materials.

The question remains whether supply can meet the demand from forecasted growth of EVs. Certainly, price reductions will not be possible if there is a shortage in material supply. IDTechEx’s demand forecasts provide clarity on how much production will need to grow over the coming decade, not just for raw materials but for components and cell capacity. Recycling could provide battery manufacturers an alternative path to securing a sustainable supply of materials. It could also allow manufacturers to limit the environmental impact of battery production and negate the ethical concerns around mining. In any case, by 2030 there will be huge volumes of end-of-life batteries that will have to be dealt with and they cannot just be landfilled. IDTechEx detail current recycling methods, players and the opportunities that recycling presents.

For anyone entering or seeking to understand the Lithium-ion battery market, the entire supply chain needs to be considered, from cell production through to raw materials. IDTechEx’s report analyzes the ongoing activity in various segments of the supply chain, including technology developments, current production output and location, recent investments, timelines and players. ◊

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