New cathode materials, manufacturing gains will cut Li-ion costs

  • 15-Nov-2011 04:53 EST
Tom Van Billinghen of Umicore.JPG

Umicore’s Tom Van Bellinghen reported on his company’s investigations into lower-cost cathode materials for Li-ion batteries. (Lindsay Brooke)

Blog from the 2011 SAE International Batteries and E-Motors Summit

SHANGHAI, CHINA, Tuesday evening, Nov. 15, 2011—The cathode is the “energy-carrying heart” of the lithium-ion battery, noted Tom Van Bellinghen, and rethinking its materials and design is key to helping to reduce Li-ion battery costs.

Van Bellinghen, an E/E and Global Sales Director for Umicore, on Monday took the SAE Vehicles Batteries Summit audience on a deep dive into Umicore’s developments in cathode materials. The company is one of the top two global cathode materials suppliers, claiming that 20% of the world’s Li-ion batteries use its cathode materials.

“Moving away from cobalt-based designs and to a cheaper metal base will help drive down automotive battery costs,” he said. “The trend is toward manganese and more lithium.”

He presented a chart showing global pricing for some common cathode materials. Compared with cobalt ($35 per kg), nickel was priced at $19/kg, lithium at $6/kg, and manganese at $3.50/kg.

Umicore expects the evolution in metal price will lead to a 1% cost reduction of raw materials. However, the total contribution of raw materials in the overall price of a Li-Ion battery can be between 20% and 50+% depending on application, Bellingham said. "Raw materials are an important cost factor and it is crucial to drive their cost down to gain mass market adoption," he noted. "Prices are coming down steadily, but slower than the industry requires for volume EV penetration."

Various recent studies of Li-ion automotive battery costs have forecast an average price of $250/kW•h by 2020, a substantial reduction from the $350-$400/kW•h forecasted just a few years ago. According to Van Bellinghen, the production cost of a commodity 18650-series cell used in a laptop computer is about $60/kW•h; full cost is around $180/kW•h. The current production costs for an EV cell is probably around $300/kW•h, he said.

“The industry has a lot of opportunity to take cost out, from cell design and materials to manufacturing,” Van Bellinghen asserted.

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