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.
Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome
The pace of mainstream EV adoption has been slow, but is expected to accelerate as automakers overcome these five critical challenges.
Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome
Many would agree that a global shift to electric vehicles (EV) is an important step in achieving a carbon-free future. However, for various reasons, EVs have so far struggled to break into the mainstream, accounting for just 2.5% of global auto sales in 2019.
To understand why, this infographic from Castrol identifies the five critical challenges that EVs will need to overcome. All findings are based on a 2020 survey of 10,000 consumers, fleet managers, and industry specialists across eight significant EV markets.
The Five Challenges to EV Adoption
Cars have relied on the internal combustion engine (ICE) since the early 1900s, and as a result, the ownership experience of an EV can be much more nuanced. This results in the five critical challenges we examine below.
Challenge #1: Price
The top challenge is price, with 63% of consumers believing that EVs are beyond their current budget. Though many cheaper EV models are being introduced, ICE vehicles still have the upper hand in terms of initial affordability. Note the emphasis on “initial”, because over the long term, EVs may actually be cheaper to maintain.
Taking into account all of the running and maintenance costs of [an EV], we have already reached relative cost parity in terms of ownership.
—President, EV consultancy, U.S.
For starters, an EV drivetrain has significantly fewer moving parts than an ICE equivalent, which could result in lower repair costs. Government subsidies and the cost of electricity are other aspects to consider.
So what is the tipping price that would convince most consumers to buy an EV? According to Castrol, it differs around the world.
|Country||EV Adoption Tipping Price ($)|
Many budget-conscious buyers also rely on the used market, in which EVs have little presence. The rapid speed of innovation is another concern, with 57% of survey respondents citing possible depreciation as a factor that prevented them from buying an EV.
Challenge #2: Charge Time
Most ICE vehicles can be refueled in a matter of minutes, but there is much more uncertainty when it comes to charging an EV.
Using a standard home charger, it takes 10-20 hours to charge a typical EV to 80%. Even with an upgraded fast charger (3-22kW power), this could still take up to 4 hours. The good news? Next-gen charging systems capable of fully charging an EV in 20 minutes are slowly becoming available around the world.
Similar to the EV adoption tipping price, Castrol has also identified a charge time tipping point—the charge time required for mainstream EV adoption.
|Country||Charge Time Tipping Point (minutes)|
If the industry can achieve an average 31 minute charge time, EVs could reach $224 billion in annual revenues across these eight markets alone.
Challenge #3: Range
Over 70% of consumers rank the total range of an EV as being important to them. However, today’s affordable EV models (below the average tipping price of $35,947) all have ranges that fall under 200 miles.
Traditional gas-powered vehicles, on the other hand, typically have a range between 310-620 miles. While Tesla offers several models boasting a 300+ mile range, their purchase prices are well above the average tipping price.
For the majority of consumers to consider an EV, the following range requirements will need to be met by vehicle manufacturers.
|Country||Range Tipping Point (miles)|
Fleet managers, those who oversee vehicles for services such as deliveries, reported a higher average EV tipping range of 341 miles.
Challenge #4: Charging Infrastructure
Charging infrastructure is the fourth most critical challenge, with 64% of consumers saying they would consider an EV if charging was convenient.
Similar to charge times, there is much uncertainty surrounding infrastructure. For example, 65% of consumers living in urban areas have a charging point within 5 miles of their home, compared to just 26% for those in rural areas.
Significant investment in public charging infrastructure will be necessary to avoid bottlenecks as more people adopt EVs. China is a leader in this regard, with billions spent on EV infrastructure projects. The result is a network of over one million charging stations, providing 82% of Chinese consumers with convenient access.
Challenge #5: Vehicle Choice
The least important challenge is increasing the variety of EV models available. This issue is unlikely to persist for long, as industry experts believe 488 unique models will exist by 2025.
Despite variety being less influential than charge times or range, designing models that appeal to various consumer niches will likely help to accelerate EV adoption. Market research will be required, however, because attitudes towards EVs vary by country.
|Country||Consumers Who Believe EVs Are More Fashionable Than ICE Vehicles (%)|
A majority of Chinese and Indian consumers view EVs more favorably than traditional ICE vehicles. This could be the result of a lower familiarity with cars in general—in 2000, for example, China had just four million cars spread across its population of over one billion.
EVs are the least alluring in the U.S. and Norway, which coincidentally have the highest GDP per capita among the eight countries surveyed. These consumers may be accustomed to a higher standard of quality as a result of their greater relative wealth.
So When Do EVs Become Mainstream?
As prices fall and capabilities improve, Castrol predicts a majority of consumers will consider buying an EV by 2024. Global mainstream adoption could take slightly longer, arriving in 2030.
Caution should be exhibited, as these estimates rely on the five critical challenges being solved in the short-term future. This hinges on a number of factors, including technological change, infrastructure investment, and a shift in consumer attitudes.
New challenges could also arise further down the road. EVs require a significant amount of minerals such as copper and lithium, and a global increase in production could put strain on the planet’s limited supply.
Visualizing the Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes
We visualize how far popular EV models will take you on real-world routes between major cities, and which are the most cost effective.
The Range of EVs on Major Highway Routes
Between growing concerns around climate change, new commuting behaviors due to COVID-19, and imminent policy changes, the global transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is well under way.
By the year 2040, sales of electric vehicles are projected to account for 58% of new car sales, up from just 2.7% currently.
But switching from a gasoline car to an electric one is not seamless. With charging and range capacities to consider, and the supporting infrastructure still being slowly rolled out in many parts of the world, understanding the realities of EV transportation is vital.
Above, we highlight 2020 all-electric vehicle range on well-recognized routes, from California’s I-5 in the U.S. to the A2 autobahn in Germany. The data on estimated ranges and costs are drawn from the U.S. EPA as well as directly from manufacturer websites.
The EV Breakdown: Tesla is King of Range
For many consumers, the most important aspect of an electric vehicle is how far they can travel on a single charge.
Whether it’s for long commutes or out-of-city trips, vehicles must meet a minimum threshold to be considered practical for many households. As the table below shows, Tesla’s well-known EVs are far-and-away the best option for long range drivers.
|Vehicle||Range (miles)||Range (km)||MSRP||Cost per mile|
|Tesla Model S Long Range Plus||402||647||$74,990||$186.54|
|Tesla Model X Long Range Plus||351||565||$79,990||$227.89|
|Tesla Model S Performance||348||560||$94,990||$272.96|
|Tesla Model 3 Long Range||322||518||$46,990||$145.93|
|Tesla Model Y Long Range||316||509||$49,990||$158.20|
|Tesla Model X Performance||305||491||$99,990||$327.84|
|Tesla Model 3 LR Performance||299||481||$54,990||$183.91|
|Tesla Model Y Performance||291||468||$59,990||$206.15|
|Chevrolet Bolt EV||259||417||$36,620||$141.39|
|Hyundai Kona Electric||258||415||$37,190||$144.15|
|Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus||250||402||$37,990||$151.96|
|Kia Niro EV||239||385||$39,090||$163.56|
|Nissan LEAF e+ S||226||364||$38,200||$169.03|
|Audi e-tron Sportback||218||351||$69,100||$316.97|
|Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL||215||346||$39,750||$184.88|
|Porsche Taycan 4S Perf Battery Plus||203||327||$112,990||$556.60|
|Porsche Taycan Turbo||201||323||$153,510||$763.73|
|Porsche Taycan Turbo S||192||309||$187,610||$977.14|
|Hyundai IONIQ Electric||170||274||$33,045||$194.38|
|MINI Cooper SE||110||177||$29,900||$271.82|
In an industry where innovation and efficiency are vital, Tesla’s first-mover advantage is evident. From the more affordable Model 3 to the more luxurious Model S, the top eight EVs with the longest ranges are all Tesla vehicles.
At 402 miles (647 km), the range of the number one vehicle (the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus) got 127 miles more per charge than the top non-Tesla vehicle, the Polestar 2—an EV made by Volvo’s standalone performance brand.
Closer Competition in Cost
Though Tesla leads on overall range and battery capacity, accounting for the price of each vehicle shows that cost-efficiency is far more competitive among brands.
By dividing the retail price by the maximum range of each vehicle, we can paint a clearer picture of efficiency. Leading the pack is the Chevrolet Bolt, which had a cost of $141.39/mile of range in 2020 while still placing in the top 10 for range with 259 miles (417 km).
Just behind in second place was the Hyundai Kona electric at $144.15/mile of range, followed by the Tesla Model 3—the most efficient of the automaker’s current lineup. Rounding out the top 10 are the Nissan LEAF and Tesla Model S, but the difference from number one to number ten was minimal, at just over $45/mile.
|Top 10 All-Electric Vehicles by Cost Efficiency|
|Vehicle||Cost per mile|
|Chevrolet Bolt EV||$141.39|
|Hyundai Kona Electric||$144.15|
|Tesla Model 3 Long Range||$145.93|
|Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus||$151.96|
|Tesla Model Y Long Range||$158.20|
|Kia Niro EV||$163.56|
|Nissan LEAF e+ S||$169.03|
|Tesla Model 3 LR Performance||$183.91|
|Nissan LEAF e+ SV/SL||$184.88|
|Tesla Model S Long Range Plus||$186.54|
Higher Ranges and Lower Costs on the Horizon
The most important thing to consider, however, is that the EV industry is entering a critical stage.
On one hand, the push for electrification and innovation in EVs has driven battery capacity higher and costs significantly lower. As batteries account for the bulk of weight, cost, and performance in EVs, those dividends will pay out in longer ranges and greater efficiencies with newer models.
Equally important is the strengthening global push for electric vehicle adoption. In countries like Norway, EVs are already among the best selling cars on the market, while adoption rates in China and the U.S. are steadily climbing. This is also being impacted by policy decisions, such as California’s recent announcement that it would be banning the sale of gasoline cars by 2035.
Meanwhile, the only thing outpacing the growing network of Tesla superchargers is the company’s rising stock price. Not content to sit on the sidelines, competing automakers are rapidly trying to catch up. Nissan’s LEAF is just behind the Tesla Model 3 as the world’s second-best-selling EV, and Audi recently rolled out a supercharger network that can charge its cars from 0% to 80% at a faster rate than Tesla.
As the tidal wave of electric vehicle demand and adoption continues to pick up steam, consumers can expect increasing innovation to drive up ranges, decrease costs, and open up options.
Correction: A previous version of this graphic showed a European route that was the incorrect distance.
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