As we’ve often said in articles and posts, the key to the success of the battery electric car in the short to medium term, will be in the supply of the materials required to make the cathodes in the batteries, primarily Lithium, Cobalt and Nickel.
OEMs know that they need sufficient (and continuously increasing) supply of the high tier materials (not all lithium-ion batteries are made equal) to meet demand. Also, as time passes, more focus is likely to come to bear on the environmental and social implications of the associated mining, processing and shipment of those materials.
Elon Musk continues to show amazing foresight in his approach to the life cycle of his electric vehicles. We know his batteries use less Cobalt, we know he is investing in all points of the supply chain for the generation of batteries and their precious content. As other OEMs produce similar cars to compete with Elon’s Teslas, they no doubt will also follow suit by investing in all stages of battery production. We’ll continue to argue about who makes the best cars, but the winners in this space may be those with the biggest mines?
These are not small issues. If you believe battery electric is not only the answer, but the only answer, then we’re going to need hundreds of millions of new batteries to replace ICE vehicles globally; 33m in the UK alone. Our global capacity is a fraction of that. Either we have a seismic shift in the availability of the materials, or we need a new generation of battery technology, and we need it now.
The UK Government are consulting about banning cars with any element of an internal combustion engine, which would include PHEVs and even range extenders, from 2035. One minister suggested this could be even earlier; 2032 was mentioned.
In the background lurks hydrogen. Yes, there are massive challenges there too, but it’s literally the most abundant element in the universe and clearly will be a major part of the solution for larger trucks, buses and trains. Could banning ICE cars too early have the perverse effect of forcing OEMs focus away from batteries, and toward hydrogen fuel cells?