Nickel’s role in the battery revolution
The evolution of batteries for electric vehicles is a key issue when we talk about the revolution of the global automotive market.
In fact, the spreading of electric cars requires better battery performances which are strictly connected to the material the batteries are made of.
Although lithium and cobalt are widely used for battery production, there is also another material that can guarantee optimum performance for battery module: nickel.
To date, nickel is the most important metal by mass in lithium-ion battery cathodes, but the possibility of increasing its percentage in the overall composition of a battery opens up new scenarios for the future of the electric car industry.
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Nickel’s role on EVs market
As already mentioned, nickel is one of the most important metals – in term of mass – in the battery cathodes used by electric vehicle manufacturers.
Nowadays, nickel makes up 33.3% of the battery, but its concentration will increase in the future because it can greatly increase energy density.
For this reason the goal of automotive industry is to bring nickel to 80% of the mass in NCA and NMC cathodes, used by companies as Chevy and Tesla.
Tesla, in particular, is working on new battery materials, with the intention to launch on the market cells called in “Nickel-Graphite”, in which cathode is nickel and anode is graphite and silicon oxide.
This means that the evolution of battery composition will probably require a greater amount of nickel.
Growth of the nickel market
The growth of the nickel market will therefore be directly proportional to the electric vehicle penetration, even if it’s already predicted to double by 2020.
Electric cars currently account for about 1% of total car market sales, which translates into the demand for around 70,000 tonnes of nickel (3% of total market).
If sales increase, nickel demand will increase.
If the EVs market experienced an increase of only 10%, nickel demand could reach 400,000 tonnes.
Could the global nickel supply satisfy this demand?
This question becomes even more complex, especially if we consider that most of the nickel in the global supply is not suitable for the production of batteries.
This material comes from two different types of deposits: nickel laterites (62.4% of current production) and nickel sulfides (37.5% of current production).
Market interest will grow for nickel sulfide deposits, nickel sulfate is used as cathode material for lithium-ion batteries.
At the moment this represents less than 10% of total supply, a small percentage compared to the large nickel demand from the EVs market.
Industry leaders are trying to find a solution: mining giant BHP Billiton, for example, announced the investment of $43.2 million for the construction of the world’s biggest nickel sulfate plant (Australia).
We can’t predict whether these initiatives will meet the global nickel demand, but these are certainly a clear sign of an increase demand in the electric vehicle market.