Mutual Benefit of Continuing to Expand Production of Both Li-ion NCM and LFP Batteries
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
The energy density of both Li-ion NCM and LFP battery cells is increasing based on better anode and cathode chemistry. High nickel low cobalt cathodes such as the 811 formulations are resulting in higher energy densities. Nickel rich cathodes containing mono-crystal nickel meets expectations for many demanding applications. Nickel rich cathodes formulations include NCM, NCA, and NCMA.
LFP cells with manganese and proprietary coatings and dopants has significantly increased energy densities as well as retaining the advantages of lowering the risk of fire and eliminating the need to mine, transport, and purchase both cobalt and nickel. When manganese is added to increase energy densities, the cathode can be referred to as LMFP. The availability of both nickel rich and LFP batteries allow for optimization based on final applications and regional criteria. Key applications include EVs, ESS, and niche markets.
Regardless of whether a nickel or an iron-based cathode is used, the energy density of the battery cell can be increased by adding a limited quantity of silicon to the graphite anode. There are several competing technologies for maximizing the benefits of silicone addition without reducing cycle life resulting from excessive expansion – contraction during charging & discharging cycles.
Li-ion battery cells with high nickel content dominated the market during 2020 in terms of global market share (~80%), number of manufactures, and geographic diversity. However; several major manufactures in China increased LFP battery cell production capacity, increased energy density, retained very good longevity, retained low cost to produce advantage, passed standardized penetration & crush tests to verify superior safety, emphasized the advantages of eliminating all strategic metals from the formulation, and more aggressively advertised the outstanding safety record of LFP battery cells in avoiding fires.
Several EV models manufactured in China are offering lower cost LFP batteries as an option such as Tesla entry level model 3, BYD Han, and Xpeng models G3 & P7. LFP batteries continue to grow sales in the ESS markets of all battery sizes and are expanding awareness in regions outside of China including Europe and North America. Based on recent and expected completion of factories in China, the global production for LFP batteries is forecasted to increase market share from 20% in 2020 to 25% in 2021.
The selection of Li-ion battery cell chemistry can be influence by many factors and priorities including customer’s range expectations, sensitivity to pricing, risk of physical damage during use, purchase volume, engineering expertise in design of powertrain, climate of end use region, distribution options, government regulations & incentive programs, operational peak power demands, potential tariffs & trade quotas, etc.
Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries are well established in many of the low voltage markets such as drop-in replacements for lead-acid, solar plus ESS, RV & marine house batteries, electric small outboard boat batteries, warehouse machinery, electric lawn mowers, etc. Low voltage LFP batteries are well suited for the future electrification of construction, farm, and ranch specialized utility equipment and off-road EVs.
In many specialized markets an established network of distributors & dealerships qualified to market and service products with Li-ion batteries would help generate sales and lead to good ownership experience. Part of the marketing effort is to educate customers on the proper care & use of LFP battery systems and to expel misunderstandings concerning the risk of a LFP battery fires.
There are several indications that LFP batteries will gain a sizable market share of the planned ~$25,000 EV market that is expected to emerge before 2025. Companies such as Tesla and Volkswagen are developing models and are considering LFP batteries for these lower cost EV markets. Tesla is already buying LFP batteries from CATL and Volkswagen has some ownership in Guoxuan, a recognized leader in high energy density LFP battery technology and manufacturing.
The demand for nickel rich Li-ion cells is rapidly increasing driven by several fast growth global markets. Based on market dynamics, the higher the price paid for refined nickel, the more incentive to buy and produce the lower cost LFP batteries. Many EV customers are willing to pay extra for the longer driving ranges made possible by using nickel rich cathodes. Powersports is another specialized market where high-energy and high-power densities is a customer priority.
Customers in different regions have different cost sensitivities, range expectations, and vehicle size preferences. The expanding use of LFP batteries in EVs will provide affordable and safe transportation as well as help reduce the risk of a shortage of nickel resulting in a rapid rise in pricing. Governments and consumer groups should encourage the growth of both cathode chemistries to optimize the many potential benefits of EVs.
A major question is how to encourage the construction of LFP battery cell factories outside as well as inside of China. Both CATL and Guoxuan are in a good position to partner with a major EV manufacturing company. Tesla has plans to continue building very large Li-ion battery cell factories and understands the long-term contribution LFP chemistry can offer customs of lower cost EVs, ESS, and a wide spectrum of niche markets. Lithium Australia VSPC is actively pursuing the possibility of building a high-volume LMFP factory in Australia. The electrification of developing regions is an important part in meeting climate objectives and lower cost LFP battery cells can facilitate the transition.
Paul Kageler: My broad background includes experience in the global chemical industry, industrial construction, global oil & gas assignments, and electrification & solar energy advisor. Job roles while at BASF Chemicals include research & development, project management, plant startup, plant manager, product stewardship manager, and product manage. Job titles at Halliburton include fluid engineer, Sr. Technical Professional, and Global Field Advisor. Also experience in technical sales. I have followed the solar industry since 2010 and developed an interest in Li-ion battery applications. Recent work and studies include residential and remote area solar plus ESS and converting electric off-road vehicles to LFP batteries. My interest during leisure time includes fishing, exercising, and following developments related to Li-ion battery applications. Education: BS Degree in Chemistry from Texas State University
Below are some article and video links related to LFP battery cells and batteries.
https://www.proactiveinvestors.com.au/companies/news/935559/lithium-australias-vspc-produces-lithium-manganese-ferro-phosphate-battery-cells-for-testing-to-develop-safe-lithium-ion-battery-935559.html Australia LMFP battery cells. Has a 6-minute embedded video that is good to watch.
https://pushevs.com/2020/12/11/vspc-develops-cobalt-free-lfmp-battery-cell/ Australia LMFP cells.
https://pushevs.com/2021/02/04/xpeng-p7-gets-a-cobalt-free-lfp-battery/ Xpeng P7 has option for LFP battery.
https://pushevs.com/2021/02/04/xpeng-ships-second-batch-of-g3-to-customers-in-norway/ Includes statement that Xpeng offering LFP battery option in G3 model and BYD Han to enter European market.
https://www.autonews.com/china/vw-backed-battery-maker-guoxuan-eyes-100-gwh-capacity-2025 Recent article on Guoxuan LFP batteries and shows Guoxuan has mass production capabilities in China and is partially owned by Volkswagen Group.
https://insideevs.com/news/481770/guoxuan-210-whkg-lfp-battery-cells/ Guoxuan announces LFP battery cells with 210 Wh/kg and year by year future targets.
https://insideevs.com/news/446245/tesla-slide-25000-car-lfp-batteries/ Article points out that Tesla is committed to a future ~$25,000 EV and LFP batteries are a contender.
http://autonews.gasgoo.com/new_energy/70017246.html Older article on CATL supplying Tesla with LFP batteries in China.
https://www.greencarcongress.com/2021/01/catl-to-build-new-280m-80-tpy-lfp-cathode-materials-plant-in-china.html Expansion of LFP materials production by CATL.
https://www.greencarcongress.com/2020/12/20201207-vspc.html Announcement that adding manganese increases energy density of LFP battery cell cathode.