Cathodes: The Key to Advancing Lithium-Ion Technology
The inner-workings of most commercialized batteries are typically pretty straightforward.
The lead-acid battery, which is the traditional battery used in the automotive sector, is as easy as it gets. Put two lead plates in sulphuric acid, and you’re off to the races.
However, lithium-ion batteries are almost infinitely more complex than their predecessors. That’s because “lithium-ion” refers to a mechanism – the transfer of lithium-ions – which can occur in a variety of cathode, anode, and electrolyte environments. As a result, there’s not just one type of lithium-ion battery, but instead the name acts as an umbrella that represents thousands of different formulations that could work.
The Cathode’s Importance
Today’s infographic comes to us from Nano One, a Canadian tech company that specializes in battery materials, and it provides interesting context on lithium-ion battery advancements over the last couple of decades.
Since the commercialization of the lithium-ion battery in the 1990s, there have been relatively few developments in the materials or technology used for anodes and electrolytes. For example, graphite is still the material of choice for anodes, though researchers are trying to figure out how to make the switch over to silicon. Meanwhile, the electrolyte is typically a lithium salt in an organic solvent (except in lithium-ion polymer batteries).
Cathodes, on the other hand, are a very different story. That’s because they are usually made up of metal oxides or phosphates – and there are many different possible combinations that can be used.
Here are five examples of commercialized cathode formulations, and the metals needed for them (aside from lithium):
|Cathode Type||Chemistry||Example Metal Portions||Example Use|
|NCA||LiNiCoAlO2||80% Nickel, 15% Cobalt, 5% Aluminum||Tesla Model S|
|LCO||LiCoO2||100% Cobalt||Apple iPhone|
|LMO||LiMn2O4||100% Manganese||Nissan Leaf|
|NMC||LiNiMnCoO2||Nickel 33.3%, Manganese 33.3%, Cobalt 33.3%||Tesla Powerwall|
|LFP||LiFePO4||100% Iron||Starter batteries|
Lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, aluminum, and iron are just some of the metals used in current lithium-ion batteries out there – and each battery type has considerably different properties. The type of cathode chosen can affect the energy density, power density, safety, cycle life, and cost of the overall battery, and this is why researchers are constantly experimenting with new ideas and combinations.
For companies like Tesla, which wants the exit rate of lithium-ion cells to be faster than “bullets from a machine gun”, the cathode is of paramount importance. Historically, it’s where most advancements in lithium-ion battery technology have been made.
Cathode choice is a major factor for determining battery energy density, and cathodes also typically account for 25% of lithium-ion battery costs. That means the cathode can impact both the performance and cost pieces of the $/kWh equation – and building a better cathode will likely be a key driver for the success of the green revolution.
Luckily, the future of cathode development has many exciting prospects. These include concepts such as building cathodes with layered-layered composite structures or orthosilicates, as well as improvements to the fundamental material processes used in cathode assembly.
As these new technologies are applied, the cost of lithium-ion batteries will continue to decrease. In fact, experts are now saying that it won’t be long before batteries will hit $80/kWh – a cost that would make EVs undeniably cheaper than traditional gas-powered vehicles.
Visualizing U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Product Imports in 2021
This visualization breaks down U.S. oil imports by country for 2021, showing the split by OPEC and non-OPEC nations.
U.S. Petroleum Product and Crude Oil Imports in 2021: Visualized
Energy independence is top of mind for many nations as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted sanctions and bans against Russian coal and crude oil imports.
Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, in 2021 the U.S. still imported more than 3 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products, equal to 43% of the country’s consumption.
This visualization uses data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to compare U.S. crude oil and refined product imports with domestic crude oil production, and breaks down which countries the U.S. imported its oil from in 2021.
U.S. Crude Oil Imports, by Country
The U.S. imports more than 8 million barrels of petroleum products a day from other nations, making it the world’s second-largest importer of crude oil behind China.
America’s northern neighbor, Canada, is the largest source of petroleum imports at 1.58 billion barrels in 2021. These made up more than 51% of U.S. petroleum imports, and when counting only crude oil imports, Canada’s share rises to 62%.
|Rank||Country||U.S. Oil Imports (2021, in barrels)||Share|
|#1||🇨🇦 Canada||1,584 million||51.3%|
|#2||🇲🇽 Mexico||259 million||8.4%|
|#3||🇷🇺 Russia||254 million||7.9%|
|#4||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||156 million||5.1%|
|#5||🇨🇴 Colombia||74 million||2.4%|
|#6||🇪🇨 Ecuador||61 million||2.0%|
|#7||🇮🇶 Iraq||57 million||1.9%|
|#8||🇧🇷 Brazil||52 million||1.7%|
|#9||🇰🇷 South Korea||48 million||1.6%|
|#10||🇳🇱 Netherlands||46 million||1.5%|
|#11||🇳🇬 Nigeria||45 million||1.5%|
|Other countries||459 million||14.7%|
The second-largest contributor to U.S. petroleum imports was another neighbor, Mexico, with 259 million barrels imported in 2021—making up a bit more than 8% of U.S. petroleum imports.
Russia was the third-largest exporter of crude oil and petroleum products to the U.S. in 2021, with their 254 million barrels accounting for almost 8% of total imports.
U.S. Crude Oil and Petroleum Imports from OPEC and OPEC+
Only about 11% of U.S. crude oil and petroleum product imports come from OPEC nations, with another 16.3% coming from OPEC+ members.
While imports from OPEC and OPEC+ members make up more than a quarter of America’s total petroleum imports, this share is fairly small when considering OPEC members currently control nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves.
Which Countries are Part of OPEC and OPEC-Plus?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 13 petroleum producing nations that formed in 1960 to provide steady prices and supply distribution of crude oil and petroleum products.
In 2016, OPEC-plus was formed with additional oil-exporting nations in order to better control global oil supply and markets in response to a deluge of U.S. shale supply hitting the markets at that time.
- 🇮🇷 Iran*
- 🇮🇶 Iraq*
- 🇰🇼 Kuwait*
- 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia*
- 🇻🇪 Venezuela*
- 🇩🇿 Algeria
- 🇦🇴 Angola
- 🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea
- 🇬🇦 Gabon
- 🇱🇾 Libya
- 🇳🇬 Nigeria
- 🇨🇩 Republic of the Congo
- 🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
* Founding members
- 🇷🇺 Russia
- 🇲🇽 Mexico
- 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia
- 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan
- 🇧🇭 Bahrain
- 🇧🇳 Brunei
- 🇴🇲 Oman
- 🇸🇩 Sudan
- 🇸🇸 South Sudan
Although OPEC and OPEC+ members supply a significant part of U.S. crude oil and petroleum imports, America has avoided overdependence on the group by instead building strong ties with neighboring exporters Canada and Mexico.
Crude Oil Imports Capitalize on U.S. Refineries
While the U.S. has been a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products the past two years, exporting 3.15 billion barrels while importing 3.09 billion barrels in 2021, crude oil-only trade tells a different story.
In terms of just crude oil trade, the U.S. was a significant net importer, with 2.23 billion barrels of crude oil imports and only 1.08 billion barrels of crude oil exports. But with the U.S. being the world’s largest crude oil producer, why is this?
As noted earlier, neighboring Canada makes up larger shares of U.S. crude oil imports compared to crude oil and petroleum product imports. Similarly, Mexico reaches 10% of America’s crude oil imports when excluding petroleum products.
Maximizing imports from neighboring countries makes sense on multiple fronts for all parties due to lower transportation costs and risks, and it’s no surprise Canada and Mexico are providing large shares of just crude oil as well. With such a large collection of oil refineries across the border, it’s ultimately more cost-efficient for Canada and Mexico to tap into U.S. oil refining rather than refining domestically.
In turn, Mexico is the largest importer of U.S. produced gasoline and diesel fuel, and Canada is the third-largest importer of American-produced refined petroleum products.
Replacing Russian Crude Oil Imports
While Russia only makes up 8% of American petroleum product imports, their 254 million barrels will need to be replaced as both countries ceased trading soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to curb rising oil and gasoline prices, in March President Joe Biden announced the release of up to 180 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Other IEA nations are also releasing emergency oil reserves in an attempt to curb rising prices at the pump and volatility in the oil market.
While the U.S. and the rest of the world are still managing the short-term solutions to this oil supply gap, the long-term solution is complex and has various moving parts. From ramping up domestic oil production to replacing oil demand with other cleaner energy solutions, oil trade and imports will remain a vital part of America’s energy supply.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar make up 10% of the world’s electricity. Combined, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity after coal, gas, and hydro.
Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country
Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.
This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.
Europe Leads in Wind and Solar
Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.
Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.
|Rank||Top Countries||Solar/Wind Power Share|
|#10||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||25.2%|
From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.
Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals
The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.
Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.
In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.
Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.
Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.
More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.
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