Arguably the most important aspect of an electric vehicle is the battery. EV battery technology has developed significantly in recent years to the point where EVs are just as powerful or, in some cases, more powerful than their petrol and diesel counterparts. Governments across the world have been able to announce ICE bans in the near future because the standard of electric vehicles has come so far.
The batteries needed for EVs have been the primary reason why the cost of the vehicles has been so high. However, thanks to developments in technology, it is projected that, by 2027, it will be cheaper to purchase a new electric car than a new petrol or diesel car.
Here, we will be looking at EV battery technology, the materials used to make electric car batteries, and why they are currently so expensive.
What materials are used to make electric car batteries?
Lithium-ion is the most popular type of EV battery, made from carbon and highly reactive lithium. Lithium batteries have been used in consumer electronics such as smartphones and laptops for a while now, but they have become the battery of choice for electric cars due to their long-life cycle and high energy density.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries are another type of battery typically used in hybrid vehicles. These batteries are made from hydrogen and nickel. Nickel-metal hydride batteries can hold the same energy and are cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, but they are bigger and heavier, making the vehicle more cumbersome, and they also charge and discharge at a lower rate.
Lead acid batteries are cheaper than other types of batteries and are high-powered and reliable, but have become less popular in the wake of alternatives. This is because they have a short life span and don’t perform well in cold weather, requiring a heating coil to operate effectively in these conditions which can significantly reduce the range of the charge.
There is potential that lithium-sulphur batteries could one day usurp lithium-ion as the best option for EV batteries, but these batteries currently have problems with a low life cycle that need to be overcome before the technology is adopted.
Why are EV batteries currently so expensive?
The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs are similar to those used in smartphones and laptops, but they are much bigger and therefore need materials in much larger quantities. Cathodes are currently the most expensive components used in EV battery technology because they are made using expensive materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese.
These materials come at more of a cost than just the raw materials; they all need to be processed and converted into chemical compounds of a high purity before they can be used in cathode construction.
As well as these materials being expensive, analysts also believe that the global mining capacity to extract these minerals may fall short of the volumes that are required to meet the projected demands for the manufacture of EV batteries in the future.
To try and drive the production costs down (and, as a result, the cost of the vehicle for the consumer), manufacturers are looking to replace the more expensive materials with affordable alternatives where possible, while also redesigning the batteries to simplify them and making them useable by a range of vehicles, rather than just for individual models. Currently, the leading EV battery technology is the same technology we have been using in our phones and laptops for some time. If lithium-ion batteries continue to be the best option for EV batteries, then the challenge is to produce them in the large quantities needed to fill our roads with electric cars after the ICE ban.