US, Europe Chase Cheaper EV Batteries To Curb China’s Dominance – Asia Financial | CarTailz

Startups in the US and Europe are rushing to develop cheaper batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), a move that could reduce China’s dominance in the industry and expand EV markets in key Asian countries.

They aim to replace some of the most expensive materials used in EV batteries with more abundant and cheap materials – sodium and sulfur. If they succeed, they could make batteries that could be up to two-thirds cheaper than today’s lithium-ion cells.

More than a dozen startups have attracted millions of dollars in investments and government grants to develop new types of batteries. Some of them are based in Berlin Theionbased in the UK faradionand based in the US lytes.

Why cheaper EV batteries matter

Today’s electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries – made primarily of lithium, cobalt, manganese and high-grade nickel – which have skyrocketed in price over the past two years. Current EV battery packs typically cost between $10,000 and $12,000.

The electric vehicles of the future – those arriving after 2025 – could switch to significantly cheaper sodium-ion or lithium-sulfur battery cells. This could potentially make EVs affordable beyond the mid-range.

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“Sodium ions definitely have a place, especially for stationary storage and low-end vehicles in cost-sensitive markets like China, India, Africa and South America,” says consultant Prabhakar Patil, a former managing director of LG Chem.

Battery startups say they are in talks with major automakers, some of which are actively testing new batteries that could appear in mass-market electric vehicles before the end of the decade. The car companies like to keep their options open.

“More (battery) chemistry will come out over time,” said Linda Zhang, chief engineer of Ford’s F150 Lightning electric pickup truck. “It would be stupid not to use those chemistries.”

The China Factor

Western producers are struggle to catch up with their Asian rivalsand automakers expect supply bottlenecks in auto production in the middle of the decade.

Currently, China dominates battery production, including mining and refining of raw materials.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a UK-based consultancy, estimates that China currently has 75% of the world’s cobalt refining capacity and 59% of its lithium processing capacity.

“We’re still dependent on a material supply chain from China,” said James Quinn, chief executive of British sodium-ion battery startup Faradion, which received more than $1 million in government grants from Innovate UK before it was most recently bought by Indian conglomerate Reliance year for $117 million.

“If you look at the global geopolitical implications, this is a challenge for energy security, economic security and national security.”

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Asian battery giants are also working on new chemistries. China’s CATL has announced that it will start producing sodium ion cells in 2023. Korea’s LG Energy Solution aims to start manufacturing lithium-sulfur cells by 2025.

Tony Harper, director of the Faraday Battery Challenge, the UK government’s program that invests in boosting new battery technologies, said the car industry is increasingly concerned about the supply of lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, so new chemicals are vital .

“This will take the strain of a very, very difficult situation,” Harper said.

future challenges

Newer battery chemistries have problems that need to be overcome. Sodium-ion batteries don’t store enough energy yet, while sulfur cells tend to corrode quickly and don’t last long.

Duncan Williams, chief executive of consulting firm Nomura Greentech, said recent discoveries are closing the gap on issues like energy density and lifespan, “so we would expect these two alternatives to gain market share in the future.”

Michigan-based Amandarry already manufactures sodium ion cells at its Haining, China facility.

Sulfur, on the other hand, is “nasty hard chemistry” to work in batteries, says Celina Mikolajczak, chief battery technical officer at California startup Lyten, which has attracted $47.5 million from investors.

But she said it is “the chemistry of the future, the chemistry that will mass market batteries.”

Ulrich Ehmes, CEO of Theion – ancient Greek for sulfur – says the problem with sulfur is that it’s so corrosive it kills a battery after 30 charges. But he said the Berlin-based company had developed a method to treat and coat a lithium-sulfur electrode that should ensure it lasts the life of an electric vehicle.

Theion believes its lithium-sulfur cathodes could store three times more energy than traditional nickel-cobalt-manganese cells, charge ultra-fast, and cut battery cell costs by two-thirds to about $34 per kilowatt-hour.

“It’s cheap, it has a high energy density, so it seems like a no-brainer,” Ehmes said.

  • Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena

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Vishakha Saxena

Vishakha Saxena is the Multimedia and Social Media Editor at Asia Financial. She has been working as a digital journalist since 2013 and is an experienced writer and multimedia producer. As an avid stock trader and investor, she is very interested in the economy, emerging markets and the interfaces between finance and society. You can tweet her @saxenavishakha

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