Battery Show Votes In Favour Of A Lithium-Ion Future

Battery Show Votes In Favour Of A Lithium-Ion Future

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Early September, luxury electric automaker, Tesla Motors Inc, broke ground of a Gigafactory in the state of Nevada, US, to produce lithium-ion batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2020. While researchers continue to experiment with different new materials and chemistries, lithium-ion continues to be the answer for most EV manufacturers globally. Auto Tech Review attended the Battery Show in Novi, Michigan recently, where experts believed the future belongs to lithium-ion, in the near-term at least.

INTRODUCTION

Recent studies and estimates suggest good times for the future of electric vehicles. Sales of EVs globally have been doubling year-on-year, and although it constitutes a fraction of total vehicles sales – accounting for less than one per cent of the auto market – the growth is promising enough for more vehicle manufacturers to introduce products in the market, even as researchers continue to chase new realms of efficiency.

A report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) released in May this year states that tax exemptions and subsidies are clearly playing a key role in spurring EV markets. Titled "Driving Electrification: A global comparison of fiscal incentive policy for electric vehicles", the report looks at EV adoption in 11 major auto markets and the impact of fiscal policies on market demand. A comparative study of EV market shares in the 11 countries is highlighted in (1).

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The global vehicle industry recognises the fact that for now lithium-ion is the most-preferred battery solution for EVs. A study by analytics firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that the demand for lithium-ion batteries will increase dramatically to an estimated market-earned revenues of $ 7.60 bn in 2020, from the current numbers of $ 381.9 mn.

At the Battery Show in Novi, Michigan, most estimates pointed towards a similar outcome by the turn of this decade.

BRIGHT FUTURE FOR LITHIUM-ION

The development of a battery market for the future generation was one of the priority subjects discussed at the Battery Show in Novi, Michigan. Industry leaders noted that the battery market continues to evolve at a frantic pace, and that there are enormous opportunities that lie in the area of energy storage as a whole.

Lithium-ion is an area of significant importance, said Dr Prabhakar Patil, CEO of LG Chem Power. It is understood that traditional chemistries would continue to be used and adopted worldwide, but among all other chemistries being talked about currently, lithium-ion is the real area of substantial growth.

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Nonetheless, the biggest challenge for EV makers globally is the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. Manufacturers acknowledge the fact that overall EV costs would come down once lithium-ion batteries become more affordable to them, and that would happen with increased production. In this context, Tesla Motors Inc's Gigafactory in Nevada holds particular significance, even as others continue to build more capacity.

In his presentation, Vishal Sapru of Frost & Sullivan predicted that lithium-ion technologies would overtake the use of lead-iron in the battery sector by 2020. This would primarily be driven by greater uptake in grid storage, military and aerospace applications and the automotive sector. He expects future developments in China, Japan and South Korea to drive this growth, while on-going projects in Germany, US and UK would continue to be the hotspots. To make lithium-ion competitive and acceptable at a mass scale, costs would have to fall below $ 300/kWh, Sapru stated.

Nick Karditas, Director of Engineering, Bosch Battery Systems agreed and expected energy density to more than double by the end of the decade. Costs are predicted to fall from $ 450/kWh today to $ 240/kWh by 2020, he said.

Another interesting aspect touched upon by Sapru was that of development of smart cities, especially in Europe and North America. One prime example of a smart city is the Yokohama Smart City Project (YSCP) in Japan, which envisages introduction of 2,000 EVs to further reduce carbon emissions produced from transportation. The new Indian government too has earmarked a significant amount for setting up 100 such smart cities in the country, details of which are yet to emerge.

A similar view was also put forward by Wolfgang Bernhart, Senior Partner, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants GmbH, who noted that lithium-ion was likely to lead the way over the next decade, particularly in the vehicle sector.

THE COST DISADVANTAGE

As discussed earlier in this report, raw material cost will likely dictate solutions for the future. A panel during the opening session of the show said the success of lithium-ion batteries would depend on the economic viability of new technologies.

Kamen Nechev, Chief Technology Officer, SAFT Group said the prices of raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries – graphite, lithium and cobalt – are currently not controlled by the battery market. As demand from the battery market grows, new sources of raw materials will be needed to prevent price volatility and fluctuation.

Nick Karditas, Director of Engineering, Bosch Battery Systems said raw materials make up just 10 % of total costs, but they remain extremely critical. Improvements in cell component and manufacturing costs account for around 90 % of total battery costs, he said. R&D constitutes the other big cost factor for battery manufacturers globally.

CONCLUSION

Widespread adoption of EVs worldwide would hinge upon developments in the areas of safety, performance and costs. In the area of batteries, manufacturers are weighing varied options, including advanced lead-acid, lithium-air, nickel-iron, lithium-sulphur and flow batteries. However, lithium-ion continues to be the favoured chemistry for most manufacturers. General Motors, for instance, is also talking about introducing the next wave of lithium-ion battery technology that will be offer improvements in safety and security, lifecycle, cost and also strike an efficient balance between utility and performance. Overall, experts voiced a strong need for standardisation of battery technology, a move that is likely to help achieve economies of scale.

Text & Photo: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah