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With the push to electrify the automotive industry and eliminate ICE vehicles, which are a major contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions, electric vehicle adoption is on the rise. In America alone, it is projected that 18.7 million electric vehicles will be on the road by 2030.
What does more electric vehicles on the road mean? More batteries. Lots more batteries.
Used to power the electric motors in an EV, the demand for batteries has skyrocketed- to the point where industry stakeholders are concerned over potential battery shortages. Undoubtedly, manufacturers are feeling the pressure when it comes to delivering adequate battery supply - but are we considering all of the challenges, pressures, and problems associated with increased battery production? Truth be told, the most pressing issues extend far beyond supply and demand.
In any EV, the battery might be considered the heart of the vehicle with its capacity, C rate, and cycle life being key indicators of overall vehicle performance. Most batteries are under warranty for about 5-10 years, requiring replacement around the 10-year mark. At this point, even though the battery is no longer capable of powering an electric vehicle, it’s still a reusable resource at about 60% state of health.¹ Reusing or recycling a battery at this capacity should be a simple and standard next practice - but it’s not. And the fact that it’s not is drawing attention to what practices are in place right now, the significance of battery chemistries, and why standardization is essential in building a circular economy.
Battery Chemistries & Their Environmental Impact
Across the board, batteries vastly differ in their chemistries, form factors, sizes, and make-up. As scientists have experimented with different battery designs and make-ups, they’ve also tested different materials and chemical mixtures to influence batteries’ overall effectiveness across energy density, cycle life, Crating, and cost. What’s been discovered and commercialized to date includes:
LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) Middle energy density, middle C rate, middle safety, middle life span, best cost (lowest)
NMC (Lithium-Manganese-Cobalt-Oxide), NCA (Lithium Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum-Oxide) Best energy density, lower C rate, lower safety, middle cost
Lithium Titanate Middle energy density, best C rate, best safety, highest cost
Flow Batteries (no automotive applications) Lowest energy density, lowest C rate charging, highest discharging, highest safety. Lower cost in specific massive utility applications and middle cost in specific industrial applications.
In the battery world, nickel and cobalt are the most highly valued, lithium is considered mid-value, and iron has little to no value. Because of this, many have bet on NCA batteries - but this approach is problematic for both the environment and battery development practices long-term. Material resource management and environmental impact are key considerations, and mining resources are scarce for cobalt and nickel, raising availability concerns. These materials are sourced from polluting mines and smelters, and create disposal issues as they can cause water and soil contamination issues if handled improperly.
LFP: The Future of Battery Chemistries
Opting for LFP over cobalt and nickel is a matter of ensuring access and lowering costs - not to mention the added bonus of safety. (LFP batteries use phosphate for its cathode, meaning the cell contains no metallic lithium, avoiding reactivity issues.) China, a strong leader in automotive electrification, has already made the bet that 50% of the world’s lithium battery market will be large LFP by 2025 - if not before.
LFP batteries are safer, use less controversial materials, are less expensive, and still strong in overall performance. By shifting the mentality that a car must travel 400 miles on a single charge with better charging solutions and infrastructure enhancements, the industry can supply batteries more sustainably. And, standardizing this chemistry across all EV batteries enables consistency in batteries' second life applications.
Extending Batteries into Second Life
Reusing and recycling batteries has been a longstanding challenge due to the lack of battery chemistry and cell standardization. If we were to standardize the cells, just like the automotive industry did with lead acid batteries, we can create a path for reducing materials, forging a reusable market, and properly facilitating the recycling process.
At Exro, we’ve created a Battery Control System that lets us operate battery cells at different stages of health and charge, which is imperative to a secondary market for batteries. This innovative battery management inverter combined with an advanced cell control software can expand the capabilities of batteries by enabling a greater depth of control on the cells. The system opens a new horizon in energy storage by extending the life of retired electric vehicle batteries for an extra 5-10 years and repurpose those cells for stationary energy storage applications.