New battery designs for electric vehicles are unlikely to dampen demand for metals, miners say

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A lithium battery is seen on the Lexus booth during the Auto China 2016 auto show in Beijing, China on April 29, 2016. REUTERS / Damir Sagolj

Aug 6 (Reuters) – Mining companies say they are not afraid of a plan by Chinese CATL (300750.SZ) to make an electric vehicle (EV) battery without lithium and other key metals, as the new design will have battery life limited and more. rival powerful battery technologies will swallow up the mineral supply for years to come.

Industry confidence grew out of the rapid rise of the battery to power not only transportation, but a myriad of other parts of the global economy, a development that many industry analysts say will require a massive expansion of mining.

The number of electric vehicles in the world, for example, is expected to multiply by more than 14 to reach 145 million by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). At the same time, utilities are building massive fleets of batteries to store electricity.

Lithium-ion batteries are expected to remain the dominant battery chemistry as the industry booms, particularly in transportation. But CATL announced last month that it would develop a sodium ion battery that contains no nickel, lithium or cobalt. Read more

It’s a less powerful and heavier design, making it less than ideal for automobiles, a fact that mining executives say bodes well for traditional electric vehicle battery designs and the demand for metals.

“I don’t think sodium ion batteries will facilitate the demand for lithium,” said Paul Graves, general manager of lithium producer Livent Corp (LTHM.N), which has made deals to supply Tesla Inc (TSLA.O ), BMW (BMWG .DE) and other car manufacturers. “In fact, the demand for lithium is going to be limited by the supply.”

Some Western automakers are also working to reduce reliance on magnets made from rare earth metals, albeit because China is their biggest producer. Although there are alternatives for some rare earths, lithium is widely considered to be the best metal for a battery’s energy density. Read more

The use of sodium-ion batteries could reach around 15% of the global battery market by 2035, according to estimates by mineral consultancy Adamas Intelligence.

This growth, however, is expected to come at the expense of lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) batteries, which are commonly used in buses or large batteries, rather than traditional lithium-ion batteries, Adamas said.

“From the perspective of a lithium producer, this is not a significant threat for the foreseeable future,” said Ryan Castilloux, CEO of Adamas.

Albemarle Corp (ALB.N), the world’s largest lithium producer, said large utility batteries could be an important use for CATL’s new type of battery, but lithium is the only metal that can power it. widespread adoption of EVs.

“The real key to electric vehicle penetration is the higher energy lithium-ion battery,” said Eric Norris, head of Albemarle’s lithium division.

Roskill Commodity Research estimates that the demand for lithium to manufacture electric vehicle batteries will exceed 2 million tonnes by 2030, an increase of more than 4.5 times over 2020, while the Demand for cobalt, another metal used in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries, will almost double in the next ten years. Read more

“The number of potential new markets for batteries and energy storage is growing much faster than competing lithium-ion technologies,” said Andrew Miller, analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI), who tracks the chain of supply of electric vehicles. “It’s going to become a much more diverse battery market. “

Mining giant Rio Tinto (RIO.L) (RIO.AX), which produces battery-grade lithium at its boron mine in California, approved a $ 2.4 billion investment for a borate project last month lithium in Serbia.

Rio declined to comment on CATL’s plan.

Reporting by Clara Denina and Ernest Scheyder Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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