A boost of the market for lithium ion batteries for transportation
According to a report by IDTechEx, the rapidly growing market for traction batteries will exceed $55 billion in only ten years
Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx:
Lithium-ion is the winning type of rechargeable battery for the decade – there is almost a consensus. You can count about 150 manufacturers of these and IDTechEx has profiled nearly all of them. We expect 200 manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries soon, mainly because of the burgeoning number of Chinese companies making poor quality me-too-but-cheaper versions – notably the relatively easy-to-make small cylindrical versions such as the archetypal 18650 for laptops and small pouch versions for mobile phones. Then there are those that add basic flat-boxed “prismatic” versions for e-bikes but not much more. One million lithium-ion powered e-bikes were sold in Europe last year and China is starting to use them instead of the troublesome and polluting lead acid ones that the Chinese government seeks to control. Only 15% of lithium-ion battery manufacturers will continue to stay out of versions that propel vehicles.
There is almost a consensus that traction batteries for electric vehicles – hybrid and pure electric – will be the largest value market for lithium-ion batteries over the coming decade as a whole and certainly that electric vehicles will dominate use in later years by a big margin. IDTechEx projects a market for traction batteries in land and water vehicles plus aircraft of just under $60 billion in 2020 of which about 60% will be lithium-ion and 80% of those will be made by just four winning lithium-ion manufacturers.
For example, the number of mobile phones is becoming limited by the number of people in the world and it is not boosted by huge government support. The opposite is true of electric vehicles and they need the equivalent of thousands to tens of thousands of mobile phone batteries per vehicle.
The disagreement comes with just about everything else concerning lithium-ion batteries. What chemistry? IDTechEx has pointed out that most of the existing manufacturers and nearly all of the new manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries use lithium iron phosphate active cathodes because of advantages such as no materials subject to severe price hikes, low cost materials and easier patent position. They have good temperature performance that can reflect in greater safety though no lithium-ion cell is inherently safe and the first defender of safety is the Battery Management System BMS not the cell. Several recent fires and explosions have been related to something other than the cells.
The Japanese Institute for Information Technology notes that the leaders in sales of lithium-ion batteries for vehicles are in Japan (lowest material cost for the advanced materials) and Korea (fastest production lines), not China. We are told that the Japanese and Koreans, notably Panasonic including its Sanyo subsidiary, AESC and LGChem, base their success on ignoring lithium iron phosphate. This is partly because the primary driver of success of the potentially most popular electric vehicles in ten years’ time – pure electric and plug-in hybrid – is maximum all-electric range. There will be a huge take-off in sales when most people think the range of an affordable pure electric car is “adequate”. Nobody knows that figure for widely acceptable range partly because there is almost no statistical correlation between how people respond to questionnaires and what they then do.
Certainly the main frontier of lithium-ion success is achieving affordably greater energy density meaning range. Any improvement creates sales but we do not know the tipping point. The Japanese Institute for Information Technology believes that if we look at the leaders not the mob, there is a trend from lithium manganese oxide active cathode to nickel cobalt manganese to reflect these market needs. This is an over-simplification of course: there are variants and alternatives even among the leaders.
There is near consensus that lithium-ion battery anodes have to get cleverer. That must result in them being more than a minor part of the cost: today they consist of little more than copper foil coated with carbon such as graphite. Disagreement reigns when it comes to routes and timescales, however. EnerDel, Altairnano and Toshiba have taken the lithium titanate route said to improve power density for fast regenerative braking and fast chargers at the roadside or bus depot. However, rather more organisations are now looking at silicon-based anodes and some are in the market though only in small batteries. It is argued that silicon can increase cycle life and even that vital energy density but does vanadium need to be involved? Nanotechnology? Graphene? Struggling for any agreement here, we can only say that most experts believe that the cleverer anode will cost more than its typically 14% of cost reported today but it will never cost as much as the cathode, with 35% of the total spend.