The existence of the electric car or EV revolution is due to lithium batteries, and these batteries contain a variety of special minerals, thanks to their high performance. In most cases, the cocktail’s ingredient list includes cobalt and nickel. These minerals help prolong the growing consumer demand for electric vehicles.
However, as hundreds of millions of new electric vehicles are expected to hit the road in the next few decades, soaring demand for nickel and cobalt may put pressure on the mineral supply chain. Fearing that supply shortages will slow down the prosperity of electric vehicles, the US Department of Energy now proposes that we completely eliminate cobalt and nickel from batteries.
Earlier this month, the Federal Advanced Battery Alliance Inter-agency team Hosted by the Ministry of Energy, first released National Lithium Battery Blueprint Guide the development of the domestic battery industry and help the United States achieve its climate goals. Among other goals, the blueprint calls for the elimination of nickel and cobalt in lithium batteries by 2030 in order to develop a “stronger, safer and more resilient supply chain.”
This goal is more challenging than it sounds-and worrisome. Although experts say that nickel- and cobalt-free batteries with better performance than today’s commercial similar products may be commercialized in the next 10 years, the large-scale adoption of the electric vehicle industry may take longer. Although this battery may reduce the vulnerability of the US auto industry to future supply shocks, it may also have a complex impact on overseas mining.Mining regulators worry that removing certain metals from batteries will increase the pressure to extract other metals. They say that policymakers and automakers should focus on responsible sourcing and Battery recycling instead.
EV batteries come in many shapes, sizes and chemical compositions, but the market is Currently dominant The so-called NMC battery has a cathode containing nickel, manganese and cobalt. All these metals have a specific role: nickel improves the energy density and range of the battery, cobalt helps to extend battery life, and manganese helps the battery to operate more safely at higher temperatures.The ratio favored by automakers has been optimized “to provide the best performance among life, safety, cost, and power parameters,” said Jason Croy, A materials scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
Batteries that do not contain cobalt or nickel already exist, but there are trade-offs. Lithium manganese oxide or LMO batteries used in the electric bicycle market and some commercial vehicles are known for their high performance and long life, but they are not as good as NMC batteries in terms of energy density.Cheap and durable lithium iron phosphate or LFP batteries have entered the Chinese electric car market, Tesla Use them In its standard range of Model 3 cars. However, these batteries also have limited energy storage capacity and range compared to their NMC similar batteries.
“In general, giving up things like nickel-rich NMC now means giving up energy or lifespan,” Croy said. “In the foreseeable future, nickel-rich batteries will become the choice for high-performance applications.”
In other words, concerns about the scarcity of minerals and Human rights violation 70% of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo or mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo prompt manufacturers Significantly reduced The cobalt content of electric vehicle batteries in the past decade.The electric vehicle industry does not face the same pressure to reduce the use of nickel, but if it wants to, “there are many options,” said Vinkat Viswanathan, An associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is studying the next generation of batteries.For example, a lithium-rich cathode contains almost no No nickel or cobalt And storing more energy than NMC batteries is an active area of research, although more work needs to be done to extend the life of its commercial applications.
There seems to be increasing pressure to bring high-performance NMC alternatives to the streets.May report International Energy Agency It is found that if the world produces lithium batteries at the rate required to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), by 2040, global demand for cobalt and nickel may increase by about 20 times.The Biden administration recently stated that in the United States alone, the amount of lithium, cobalt, and battery-grade nickel required to power each light vehicle on the road exceeds the total amount of these metals mined globally in 2019 report Regarding supply chain loopholes. The same report concluded that the United States does not have the geological reserves needed to meet future demand for these metals, which means it may continue to rely on foreign supply chains dominated by China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other countries.
David Howell, Acting director Vehicle Technical Office The head of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the US Department of Energy said that concerns about the future scarcity of cobalt and nickel have prompted the Federal Advanced Battery Alliance to call for the development of new batteries that eliminate cobalt and nickel. Howell participated in the establishment of the Battery Alliance and the drafting of the new report last year. He said that the Department of Energy and other research institutions plan to continue to support basic research on alternative cathode chemistry and use the purchasing power of batteries. The federal government makes the most promising alternatives commercially competitive.Howell said the Vehicle Technology Office spends approximately $12.5 million on this type of research and development each year. Budget request Will “more than double” the annual investment.
“What we want to do is to ensure that by 2030, we have proven that these materials can be used in electric vehicles and replaced by any car company that wants to use them,” Howell said.
Viswanathan is “quite optimistic” about cathodes that do not contain cobalt and nickel, whose performance is equal to or better than that of NMC cathodes, and can be commercialized within 10 years. “It doesn’t need a new breakthrough invention,” he said. “It only requires careful engineering and optimization.”
Guixian BofuThe head of mining and metals research at energy consultancy BloombergNEF is skeptical. He said that the elimination of cobalt and nickel from batteries is “easy to say, but in reality it is difficult to achieve”, and pointed out that it will take decades for current battery technology to mature to commercial levels.
In Ampofo’s view, if the US government wants to reduce its vulnerability to the shortage of cobalt and nickel, it should redouble its efforts in battery recycling to create an alternative supply of these metals. The government’s recent battery blueprint also calls for strengthening the recycling of electric car batteries, but switching to non-cobalt and nickel chemicals may become more difficult because these are the two most valuable metals that can be recycled. If nickel and cobalt are eliminated from batteries, the economic incentives for recycling will be reduced. Federal policies for mandatory recycling and new technologies that make recycling more profitable may be necessary.
Eliminating nickel and cobalt in batteries may also lead to more mining of metals that replace them, such as lithium and manganese, warns that Benjamin Osilo, He coordinated a project called “Make Clean Energy Clean, Fair and Fair” at Earthworks, an environmental non-profit organization. Aucilello believes that rather than eliminating specific metals, the Biden government should “aim at reducing the social and environmental impact of extraction, while putting recycling and public transportation alternatives first.”
Salim AliThe professor of energy and environment at the University of Delaware suspects that the Biden administration considers resources such as cobalt and nickel “too headache” because of activist pressure to reduce mining due to labor and environmental issues. But Ali believes that it is “narrow from the perspective of environmental justice” to completely break away from these supply chains, because this leaves communities that rely on mining revenue without any clear economic development path.
Thea Rio FrancosAn assistant professor of political science at Providence College, Rhode Island, agreed that removing certain resources from the global supply chain “is a complicated matter from the perspective of global justice,” said. Although Riofrancos and Auciello agree that the United States should focus on recycling and reducing the use of personal cars to reduce mining pressure, in communities with deep-rooted extractive industries, “transition is challenging,” she said. “You need to invest in alternative livelihoods.”
“When you say no cobalt, you are saying’Democratic Republic of Congo, you will be disconnected from the global supply chain,” Rio Francos continued. “I am not sure that justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being taken away from the potentially valuable global supply chain.”