PEP Review 2010-5
Lithium for Electric Vehicles—a Technology and Economic Assessment
Published: September 2010
A global race of grid-ready electrical vehicles will start by the end of 2010 with the planned introductions of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicles. The success of grid-ready vehicles in the next five years will hinge on the performance and cost of the lithium ion secondary battery. This review examines the status of technology and assesses the current production costs along the value chain from lithium carbonate to cell components, battery cells, and battery packs.
A patent search was conducted to survey recent technology developments in the battery components, which hold the key to improving battery performance and production economics, which in turn will determine the future growth of electrical vehicles and demand for lithium chemicals. Based on the current cost structure and potential cost reductions, the economics of purchasing a grid-ready vehicle are analyzed. Comparing the economics and using the sales history of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery-based hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) as a guide, potential sales of grid-ready vehicles and the impact on future lithium demand are estimated. Combined with other non-vehicle applications, total lithium demand in terms of LCE (lithium carbonate equivalent) is projected to 2015
Lithium capacity expansions by current producers and from new market entrants are presented and compared with the projected demand growth. Lithium carbonate supply will enter a period of severe overcapacity if all expansion projects proceed as announced. Based upon a comparison of the production costs of various processes for manufacturing lithium carbonate, it appears that many high cost projects, such as those based on spodumene ore, are likely to be uncompetitive and will be postponed or cancelled.
Finally, the global lithium reserve is presented. It shows that the world has ample lithium supply to accommodate future demand for the foreseeable future. This review thus offers a comprehensive assessment of technology, economics and market conditions along the entire value chain.