Cobalt-free LFP batteries are gaining traction

Cobalt-free LFP batteries are gaining traction
Different battery cathode chemistries comparison

Last year I wrote that the comeback of LFP (LiFePO4) batteries would happen and it would be thanks to the adoption of a new high-voltage form of LFP that incorporates manganese (LFMP).

It seems that I was right about the first part and wrong about the second. Cobalt-free LFP batteries are now gaining traction, but it isn’t thanks to LFMP…

It’s the CTP (cell-to-pack) technology the main responsible for the substantial energy density increase of cobalt-free LFP batteries that made their strong comeback inevitable.

 

So where are we at?

 

Moneyball often brings interesting information about the Chinese electric car market.

 

 

Battery capacity installed in China (June 2020)

  • Ternary (NCM and NCA): 2.996,6 MWh (64 %)
  • LFP: 1.669,3 MWh (35 %)
  • LMO: 17,2 MWh
  • LTO: 2,7 MWh
  • Other: 13,6 MWh
  • Total: 4.699,3 MWh

 

Battery production in China (June 2020)

  • Ternary (NCM and NCA): 3.148,8 MWh (59 %)
  • LFP: 2.182,3 MWh (41 %)
  • LMO: 12,2 MWh
  • LTO: 2,6 MWh
  • Total: 5.345,9 MWh

 

Until recently LFP battery packs were mostly used in electric buses, since this kind of vehicles don’t require very energy dense batteries to be eligible for government subsidies in China.

However, recent energy density increases in LFP battery packs made possible that passenger electric cars can also use this kind of cobalt-free batteries and still be eligible for government subsidies.

 

Electric car subsidy in China depends on range and battery pack energy density – 2019 vs 2020

 

Now that extremely popular newcomers such as the Tesla Model 3 SR+ MIC (Made in China) and the BYD Han EV arrived with LFP batteries, a production boost in this battery chemistry was inevitable.

 

Anyway, this is just starting. I think that next year the rise of LFP batteries usage could be exponential, for at least three reasons:

  • BYD invades Europe
  • Tesla Model C
  • CATL battery cell plant in Germany

 

BYD invades Europe

BYD Han EV with Blade Battery

 

Although BYD already has a strong presence in Europe thanks to its very popular electric buses, its electric cars have never been very appealing to European customers.

However, the Han EV is the best electric car that BYD has ever made and the automaker already announced that after China it’s coming to Europe. It has a CTP cobalt-free LFP battery and seems to be a great alternative to the much more expensive Tesla Model S.

I bet it’ll be a major success, first in China then in Europe. BYD will have to produce a lot of LFP batteries to keep up with demand.

 

Tesla Model C

The Tesla Model C will be the compact electric car that can end the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) age. Affordable with good performance, range and charging times.

 

Tesla Model C sketch

 

Hypothetical Tesla Model C (just my guess)

  • Range: 400 km (249 miles) in WLTP and 220 miles (354 km) in EPA
  • Charging time: 80 % in 20 minutes at 150 kW CCS chargers
  • Starting price: 20.000 euros
  • Availability: worldwide

This electric car will be produced in China to be sold worldwide and its battery will definitely be cobalt-free, probably LFP or even LFMP. The other serious cobalt-free chemistry alternative is LNMO, but it’s less likely.

 

CATL battery cell plant in Germany

CATL’s battery cell plant in Germany will start production next year and it’ll make LFP battery cells more accessible to European automakers.

It’ll be a good opportunity for European automakers to finally embrace a cobalt-free chemistry like LFP, at least for high-volume models. NCM 811 and NCMA chemistries will probably be relegated for more expensive low-volume models.

LFP batteries not only are extremely safe, they are also roughly 20 % cheaper than NCM 811 and allow a much higher production volume. Enough for electric cars to compete with ICE cars in availability and price without the need of government subsidies.

Moreover, even if European automakers waste this opportunity, I’m sure that Tesla won’t. Tesla’s plant in Germany starts production next year and it’ll probably use at least some LFP battery cells from CATL.

The most likely scenario is that European automakers will have to compete with Tesla for the access to CATL’s cobalt-free batteries to remain relevant…

 

Summing up, good cobalt-free batteries are already available and they make possible for electric cars to compete in price and availability with ICE cars. I’m optimistic about the near future, even if legacy automakers keep trying to undermine electric cars and delay progress. I won’t feel sorry if some automakers that fail to adapt disappear, they have only themselves to blame…

 

 

More info:

https://www.adamasintel.com/lfp-market-2019-cell-to-pack-comeback/

15 Comments
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sola
1 month ago


China June production figures seem to be higher than capacity. How is that possible?

1 month ago
Reply to  sola

Most of the battery capacity installed in June was produced in the previous months. Likewise, most of the battery production in June will be installed in electric cars in the following months. This shows that production is increasing.

Pajda
1 month ago

Hi Pedro,

I personaly do not like this spider web comparisons because they do not reflect that each chemistry can be tuned in cell design to HP or HE. And I found funny to mark LFP with the greatest fast charge rate, when there is actually no mass produced car on the market with LFP, which can go at least close to the NCA (Tesla) or NMC(Porshe, Audi) charge rate. The last one I remember was Chevy Spark with A123 cells. My opinion is that, LFP “comeback” is mostly tied with the recent China safety regulations for BEVs valid from 2021. So you have then two options 1/ choose “inherently safe” cells with primitive pack design 2/ sophisticated pack design with “not as safe” cells. I think that for small BEV producers, particularly in China the first option is the only one to keep them in business. But this is not issue in the EU or US.

By the way I found the China regulations of BEV market useful for the industry. The most significant is that all vehicles must be equipped with the GB/T standard. I am expecting that Toyota RAV4 PHEV will come to the EU with Type 1 connector. 🙁 The second one is that their subsidies are tied with the technial parameters of electric vehicles. I am saying this for a long time that vehicles in M1 category produced after 2010 with lower range than 320 km (200 miles) WLTP should be marked as “industrial waste” and their producers should not be supported. Today it is obvious that all vehicles from C-segment (Leaf, e-Golf,…) with ca 24-36 kWh batteries was only “compliance cars” and no one will ever think to produce BEVs with such parameters any more.

1 month ago
Reply to  Pajda

Hi Pajda.

Yes, I agree that spider comparisons are simplistic. However, I chose that one mostly to show the improvements (energy and power density) that LFMP achieves over LFP.

Do you think that electric cars can achieve high production volumes without cobalt-free batteries?

Pajda
1 month ago
Reply to  Pedro Lima

Good question, I think that cobalt-free (and other rare metals-free) batteries are definitely long term goal, similar to electric motors without rare-earth permanent magnets, but firstly, I think that both technologies are at least a decade away and secondly I am not sure if the LFP(LFMP) chemistry have best perspectives, particularly for applications with high energy density requirements.

Arcangio
1 month ago

Solo espero que Europa recupere la cordura y eleve los aranceles a coches producidos en China. Discrepo de su gran alegría Pedro Lima, si a los EV pero no fabricados en China…… El resto del planeta tiene derecho a ganarse la vida y no solo comprar productos chinos. Mejor le expongo su caso, que cierren todas las fabricas de su país natal USA y compren todo de china. ¿Le gustaría?.

1 month ago
Reply to  Arcangio

Hi Arcangio, I’m Portuguese and fortunate to live in Europe just like you.

As I wrote, automakers that fail to adapt have only themselves to blame. Instead of wasting resources lobbying against electric cars for years they should have embraced them. It’s not too late…

sola
1 month ago
Reply to  Arcangio

Could you give us the courtesy of writing in English so that everyone understands your comment?

yoyo
1 month ago

BYD should contribute to more LFP in a couple more ways…
I believe they have already have and will sign additional contracts to apply other manufacturers with these batteries…
With a lower price point they should convert their whole BEV offerings over to LFP batteries as long as they will work in that model…

The American auto manufacturers seem the most likely to get left behind…
They are ditching cars and have vauge plans and only want to sell trucks…
Saddly they will probably need the government to block superior Chinese production to keep them going…
They are also extremely lucky the Japanese seem to be asleep at the wheel with BEVs…

Josef Šoltes
1 month ago

I see new LiFePo as a cheap way of doing EVs, but my bet is on LiS batteries. Hope they will show some cool products soon, especially that Australian/Chinese company had pretty impressive battery.

Famlin
30 days ago

Dear Mr. Pedro Lima : With all due respect

Please dont show a rendered picture of Tesla Model C. Before the launch of their Cybertruck, there were many renderings that looked like the current pickups without the grill, but what Tesla revealed was entirely different.

Also Tesla indicated that they are done with the product reveals for a while because they had 4 products in pipeline. With Model Y launched, still 3 more (Semi, Roadster & Cybertruck) due for launches and they are not going to reveal any more vehicle. Even if they reveal, and they never talked about Model C.

Even if they launch Model C, it will be entirely different and not like this picture that resembles discontinued Honda CR-Z without a grill.

Its interesting to see the LFP gaining traction, since these batteries are getting rid of expensive dangerous cathode and using cheaper iron.

30 days ago
Reply to  Famlin
Stephane Cnockaert
30 days ago

Hi Pedro, unfortunately, I think what we are observing, is a kind of firework end of the lithium ion intercalation chemistry show that lasted 20 years. John Goodenough got its Nobel prize, and that’s it, the show is now ending, there is nothing great to expect from the lithium ion intercalation chemistry. Consequently, all battery cells manufacturers are rushing in securing contracts with car manufacturers, hoping they don’t ask “hey, wait a moment, where did the plating – stripping chemistry go ?” Battery cells manufacturers prefer answering “lithium is a tricky material, there are still dendrites issues, we are not yet ready for industrialization”. Battery cells manufacturers are right in saying this, but on the other end, why don’t they focus on advances made in 2017, allowing to replace the lithium ion intercalation chemistry by the sodium metal plating – stripping chemistry ? I am talking about the system that’s made of a Na3V2(PO4)3 cathode, along with a copper foam anode. A cell-to-pack construction of such sort exhibits a 330 Wh per kilogram density, and charges and discharges using a “5.0 C” rate. A simple system like this is nearing perfection because the theoretical sodium metal plating – stripping chemistry energy density is approx 440 Wh per kilogram. Thus, the day there will be a “type 18650” Na3V2(PO4)3 (cathode) + copper foam (anode) battery cell, all car manufacturers will realize that they need to step out of their Li-ion contracts. You asked why the Japanese appear to be sleeping. You just got the answer. The sodium metal chemistry points towards a very low cost ($40 per kWh) metal plating – stripping chemistry that’s realizing a 330/440 = 75% max performance that’s allowing a “5.0 C” charging & discharging rate, featuring a 330 Wh per kilogram energy density. All low cost uncomplicated electric cars will thus embed a 66 kWh Na-metal battery, air cooled, costing $2640 in cells, delivering a 200 kW max continuous power, weighing 200 kg, allowing to drive 400 km, that can be recharged from 20% SOC to 80% SOC using a 200 kW power without liquid cooling. As you can see, range will thus remain a kind of issue. In reality, the simplicity of such cars, and their low selling prices, will cause people to massively adopt them, pretending “this is only a pet car”, however ending up using them as main principal cars, as 99% of the time, a 400 km range suffices. This is the way petrol cars sales will quickly drop to nil. Car manufacturers will try offering long range electric cars. Some will double the battery thickness and weight for reaching a 800 km range. Some others (like Honda) will pay scientists for industrializing a lithium metal plating – stripping chemistry featuring 75% of the theoretical 3860 Wh per kilogram energy density of lithium. Say they achieve a 2500 Wh per kilogram energy density. This way, a battery pack that’s embedding 200 kg of lithium metal cells, will store 500 kWh, enabling to drive 3000 km. Yes, three thousands kilometers. That’s the new frontier. For sure, this will allow electric airplanes (Honda again). Please note, sulfur may be preferred in case lithium metal gets banned for safety reasons. The sulfur chemistry features a theoretical 1675 Wh per kilogram energy density. Thus, reaching the 75% perfection goal would lead to sulfur battery cells featuring a 1250 Wh per kilogram energy density. But unfortunately, such energy density barely allows vertical take-off and landing, speaking of airplanes. Hope such vision can help. Have a nice day, Pedro.

Anders
18 days ago

These various diagrams were, at least to me, very informative on the actual composition of materials in each battery chemistry.

https://www.greencarcongress.com/2020/07/20200724-li.html

18 days ago
Reply to  Anders

Very interesting, thanks for sharing.