Breaking Down the Cost of an EV Battery Cell
As electric vehicle (EV) battery prices keep dropping, the global supply of EVs and demand for their batteries are ramping up.
Since 2010, the average price of a lithium-ion (Li-ion) EV battery pack has fallen from $1,200 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to just $132/kWh in 2021.
Inside each EV battery pack are multiple interconnected modules made up of tens to hundreds of rechargeable Li-ion cells. Collectively, these cells make up roughly 77% of the total cost of an average battery pack, or about $101/kWh.
So, what drives the cost of these individual battery cells?
The Cost of a Battery Cell
According to data from BloombergNEF, the cost of each cell’s cathode adds up to more than half of the overall cell cost.
|EV Battery Cell Component||% of Cell Cost|
|Manufacturing and depreciation||24%|
|Housing and other materials||3%|
Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.
Why Are Cathodes so Expensive?
The cathode is the positively charged electrode of the battery. When a battery is discharged, both electrons and positively-charged molecules (the eponymous lithium ions) flow from the anode to the cathode, which stores both until the battery is charged again.
That means that cathodes effectively determine the performance, range, and thermal safety of a battery, and therefore of an EV itself, making them one of the most important components.
They are composed of various metals (in refined forms) depending on cell chemistry, typically including lithium and nickel. Common cathode compositions in modern use include:
- Lithium iron phosphate (LFP)
- Lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC)
- Lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA)
The battery metals that make up the cathode are in high demand, with automakers like Tesla rushing to secure supplies as EV sales charge ahead. In fact, the commodities in the cathode, along with those in other parts of the cell, account for roughly 40% of the overall cell cost.
Other EV Battery Cell Components
Components outside of the cathode make up the other 49% of a cell’s cost.
The manufacturing process, which involves producing the electrodes, assembling the different components, and finishing the cell, makes up 24% of the total cost.
The anode is another significant component of the battery, and it makes up 12% of the total cost—around one-fourth of the cathode’s share. The anode in a Li-ion cell is typically made of natural or synthetic graphite, which tends to be less expensive than other battery commodities.
Although battery costs have been declining since 2010, the recent surge in prices of key battery metals like lithium has cast a shadow of doubt over their future. How will EV battery prices evolve going forward?
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
What are the safest energy sources? This graphic shows both GHG emissions and accidental deaths caused by different energy sources.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
Recent conversations about climate change, emissions, and health have put a spotlight on the world’s energy sources.
As of 2021, nearly 90% of global CO₂ emissions came from fossil fuels. But energy production doesn’t just lead to carbon emissions, it can also cause accidents and air pollution that has a significant toll on human life.
This graphic by Ruben Mathisen uses data from Our World in Data to help visualize exactly how safe or deadly these energy sources are.
Fossil Fuels are the Highest Emitters
All energy sources today produce greenhouse gases either directly or indirectly. However, the top three GHG-emitting energy sources are all fossil fuels.
|Energy||GHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)|
|Natural Gas||490 tonnes|
Coal produces 820 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) per gigawatt-hour. Not far behind is oil, which produces 720 tonnes CO₂e per gigawatt-hour. Meanwhile, natural gas produces 490 tonnes of CO₂e per gigawatt-hour.
These three sources contribute to over 60% of the world’s energy production.
Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.
|Energy Sources||Death rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)|
According to Our World in Data, air pollution and accidents from mining and burning coal fuels account for around 25 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity—roughly the amount consumed by about 150,000 EU citizens in one year. The same measurement sees oil responsible for 18 annual deaths, and natural gas causing three annual deaths.
Meanwhile, hydropower, which is the most widely used renewable energy source, causes one annual death per 150,000 people. The safest energy sources by far are wind, solar, and nuclear energy at fewer than 0.1 annual deaths per terawatt-hour.
Nuclear energy, because of the sheer volume of electricity generated and low amount of associated deaths, is one of the world’s safest energy sources, despite common perceptions.
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