Evolving EV market shifts mineral demand
Metal Tech News - March 13, 2023
Last updated 3/16/2023 at 7:45pm
Less nickel, cobalt, and manganese in LFP cells offset by larger batteries in electric vehicles.
A global rise of lithium ferro-phosphate (LFP) batteries for electric vehicles has provided a lower-cost option that is helping to enable the adoption of EVs by the masses and is taking some of the demand pressure off lithium-ion battery metals such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese. Adding more affordable but shorter-range LFP batteries to the mix, however, does little to relieve the demand for two mined battery materials – lithium and graphite.
In fact, the quantities of lithium and graphite going into EV batteries is outpacing the number of new electric cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs hitting global highways, according to the latest edition of Adamas Intelligence's biannual "State of Charge" report.
According to registration data collected by the critical metals and minerals analytical firm, 8.2 million battery-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid passenger EVs were sold during the second half of 2022, a 38% increase over the 5.9 million sold during the same six-month period in 2021.
With a 53% year-over-year increase, Asia Pacific was the primary driver for new EV sales, followed by a more modest 21% increase in the Americas and 19% in Europe.
Not only are more EVs being sold around the globe, but a larger percentage are fully electric. This shift toward more fully electric models, coupled with the introduction of electric versions of trucks, SUVs, and vans, means that the size of the average EV battery is getting bigger. As a result, the EVs hitting the highway in the second half of 2022 contained a total of 291.7 gigawatt-hours of battery storage capacity, which is 64% higher than the 177.5 GWh deployed during the corresponding period of 2021.
Adamas Intelligence Managing Director Ryan Castilloux told Metal Tech News in an email that this trend toward bigger EV batteries that require more metals and materials is anticipated to continue to rise disproportionally faster than total EV unit sales.
This will continue to push the limits of a global mining sector that is increasingly focused on producing enough battery materials to keep pace with the burgeoning EV revolution.
Rise of LFP batteries
The recent upsurge in popularity of LFP cells in EVs is relieving some of the demand pressures for nickel, cobalt, and manganese.
LFP batteries use lithium iron phosphate as the cathode material and graphite as the anode. While LFP batteries are cheaper to make, they cannot pack away as much energy as their nickel-dominant lithium-ion counterparts. This means that an EV powered with LFP cells will have roughly 30% less range when compared to the same car equipped with the same physically sized NCM811 – cathode made of 80% nickel, 10% cobalt, and 10% manganese.
For urban commuter vehicles, the cost savings often outweigh a drop in range that is seldom challenged. For larger and longer-range vehicles, however, it tends to be worth the extra money to travel an extra hour or two between charges.
During the second half of 2022, roughly 31% of EVs were powered by LCP batteries. While nickel-dominant cells continue to be the preferred option, roughly 91.6 GWh of LFP cells were installed in EVs during the second half of 2022, a 129% increase over the same period of 2021.
"Overall, in 2022 LFP captured 30% of the global passenger EV market, due almost entirely to its use in China but its adoption is moving west," Castilloux wrote.
When it comes to demand for nickel, manganese, and cobalt, the rise in LCP battery popularity was almost exactly offset by the larger average EV battery size.
According to Adamas Intelligence data, the batteries powering the 8.2 million new passenger EVs sold during the second half of 2022 contained approximately:
• 121,170 metric tons of nickel, a 44% increase over the second half of 2021.
• 32,700 metric tons of manganese, a 39% increase over the second half of 2021.
• 24,870 metric tons of cobalt, a 37% increase over the second half of 2021.
These percentage increases are almost exactly in line with the growth of total passenger EV sales over the same period.
Supercharged lithium, graphite growth
More EVs with bigger batteries equates to outsized demand growth for graphite and lithium, the two mined ingredients common to both LFP and nickel-rich lithium-ion batteries.
Graphite, which happens to be the single largest ingredient in all the lithium battery types common in EVs, experienced the largest percentage growth when it comes to mineral materials going into EV batteries, according to the Adamas Intelligence report.
During the second half of 2022, roughly 267,800 metric tons of graphite was packed into the anodes of batteries powering the newly sold passenger EVs, a 68% increase over the same period of 2021.
Likewise, 173,790 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent – an industry standard for reporting lithium quantities – went into EV batteries during the second half of 2022, 62% more than a year earlier.
With the e-mobility transition continuing to gain momentum, coupled with the batteries getting bigger, it is expected that the demand for both graphite and lithium to continue to outpace the number of EVs entering global highways.
It is estimated that by 2030, it will take 5 million to 6 million metric tons of graphite per year to fill lithium battery demands, which is roughly four times all the graphite mined globally in 2022.
Similarly, more than 3 million metric tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent is forecast to be needed for EV batteries by 2030, which is more than four times the estimated 636,000 metric tons produced in 2022.
This means that while EV production will power massive demand for all battery metals, no matter what mix of current lithium battery technologies are installed, supercharged growth for graphite and lithium can be expected.