New Ev Battery materials will beget new dilemmas

Improvements in the energy density of electric-vehicles batteries have been driven by advancements in cathodes over the past decade. The next incremental gains in performance and cost are expected to come from emerging technologies in other components, including next-generation anodes, solid-state batteries and sodium-ion cells.

Aside from the technical advantages of certain materials, which include providing longer ranges and faster charging capabilities — hopefully at a lower cost — the move toward new battery materials is emerging as companies and countries grapple with the reality of just how much extraction will be required to make the clean transition.

The history of cathode innovation tells us that shifting away from materials that have more vulnerable supply chains is possible, and in fact, it enabled the move to lower cobalt content and toward chemistries with higher nickel content. The rate at which other emerging technology innovations are adopted could have a significant impact on demand for key raw materials like graphite and lithium.

However, this scenario would require a rapid supply chain and manufacturing expansion, with sodium-ion cells in 2035 being more than twice the volume of lithium-ion in 2023, a scale that has taken decades to reach.

On the anode side, BNEF expects technologies that lean on silicon, lithium and hard carbon to start entering the battery market this decade, and estimates they could displace 46% of graphite demand in 2035 compared to a scenario in which the market doesn’t shift away from graphite.

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