The Battery Series
Part 4: Critical Ingredients Needed to Fuel the Battery Boom
The Battery Series is a five-part infographic series that explores what investors need to know about modern battery technology, including raw material supply, demand, and future applications.
The Critical Ingredients Needed to Fuel the Battery Boom
We’ve already looked at the evolution of battery technology and how lithium-ion technology will dominate battery market share over the coming years. Part 4 of the Battery Series breaks down the raw materials that will be needed for this battery boom.
Batteries are more powerful and reliable than ever, and costs have come down dramatically over years. As a result, the market for electric vehicles is expected to explode to 20 million plug-in EV sales per year by 2030.
To power these vehicles, millions of new battery packs will need to be built. The lithium-ion battery market is expected to grow at a 21.7% rate annually in terms of the actual energy capacity required. It was 15.9 GWh in 2015, but will be a whopping 93.1 GWh by 2024.
Dissecting the Lithium-Ion
While there are many exciting battery technologies out there, we will focus on the innards of lithium-ion batteries as they are expected to make up the vast majority of the total rechargeable battery market for the near future.
Each lithium-ion cell contains three major parts:
1) Anode (natural or synthetic graphite)
2) Electrolyte (lithium salts
3) Cathode (differing formulations)
While the anode and electrolytes are pretty straightforward as far as lithium-ion technology goes, it is the cathode where most developments are being made.
Lithium isn’t the only metal that goes into the cathode – other metals like cobalt, manganese, aluminum, and nickel are also used in different formulations. Here’s four cathode chemistries, the metal proportions (excluding lithium), and an example of what they are used for:
|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|
While manganese and aluminum are important for lithium-ion cathodes, they are also cheaper metals with giant markets. This makes them fairly easy to procure for battery manufacturers.
Lithium, graphite, and cobalt, are all much smaller and less-established markets – and each has supply concerns that remain unanswered:
- South America: The countries in the “Lithium Triangle” host a whopping 75% of the world’s lithium resources: Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia.
- China: 65% of flake graphite is mined in China. With poor environmental and labor practices, China’s graphite industry has been under particular scrutiny – and some mines have even been shut down.
- Indonesia: Price swings of nickel can impact battery makers. In 2014, Indonesia banned exports of nickel, which caused the price to soar nearly 50%.
- DRC: 65% of all cobalt production comes from the DRC, a country that is extremely politically unstable with deeply-rooted corruption.
- North America: Yet, companies such as Tesla have stated that they want to source 100% of raw materials sustainably and ethically from North America. The problem? Only nickel sees significant supply come from the continent.
Cobalt hasn’t been mined in the United States for 40 years, and the country produced zero tonnes of graphite in 2015. There is one lithium operation near the Tesla Gigafactory 1 site but it only produces 1,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year. That’s not nearly enough to fuel a battery boom of this size.
To meet its goal of a 100% North American raw materials supply chain, Tesla needs new resources to be discovered and extracted from the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.
Raw Material Demand
While all sorts of supply questions exist for these energy metals, the demand situation is much more straightforward.
Consumers are demanding more batteries, and each battery is made up of raw materials like cobalt, graphite, and lithium.
Today, about 40% of cobalt is used to make rechargeable batteries. By 2019, it’s expected that 55% of total cobalt demand will go to the cause.
In fact, many analysts see an upcoming bull market in cobalt.
- Battery demand is rising fast
- Production is being cut from the Congo
- A supply deficit is starting to emerge
“In many ways, the cobalt industry has the most fragile supply structure of all battery raw materials.” – Andrew Miller, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence
There is 54kg of graphite in every battery anode of a Tesla Model S (85kWh).
Benchmark Mineral Intelligence forecasts that the battery anode market for graphite (natural and synthetic) will at least triple in size from 80,000 tonnes in 2015 to at least 250,000 tonnes by the end of 2020.
Goldman Sachs estimates that a Tesla Model S with a 70kWh battery uses 63 kilograms of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) – more than the amount of lithium in 10,000 cell phones.
Further, for every 1% increase in battery electric vehicle (BEV) market penetration, there is an increase in lithium demand by around 70,000 tonnes LCE/year.
Lithium prices have recently spiked, but they may begin sliding in 2019 if more supply comes online.
The Future of Battery Tech
Sourcing the raw materials for lithium-ion batteries will be critical for our energy mix.
But, the future is also bright for many other battery technologies that could help in solving our most pressing energy issues.
Part 5 of The Battery Series will look at the newest technologies in the battery sector.
Ranked: Nuclear Power Production, by Country
Nuclear power accounted for 10% of global electricity generated in 2020. Here’s a look at the largest nuclear power producers.
Nuclear Power Production by Country
Nearly 450 reactors around the world supply various nations with nuclear power, combining for about 10% of the world’s electricity, or about 4% of the global energy mix.
But while some countries are turning to nuclear as a clean energy source, nuclear energy generation overall has seen a slowdown since its peak in the 1990s.
The above infographic breaks down nuclear electricity generation by country in 2020 using data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).
Ranked: The Top 15 Countries for Nuclear Power
Just 15 countries account for more than 91% of global nuclear power production. Here’s how much energy these countries produced in 2020:
|Rank||Country||Number of Operating Reactors||Nuclear Electricity Supplied|
|#5||South Korea 🇰🇷||24||152,583||6.0%|
|Rest of the World 🌎||44||207,340||8.1%|
In the U.S., nuclear power produces over 50% of the country’s clean electricity. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 96 operating reactors in 2020 received approvals for a 20-year life extension.
China, the world’s second-largest nuclear power producer, is investing further in nuclear energy in a bid to achieve its climate goals. The plan, which includes building 150 new reactors by 2035, could cost as much as $440 billion.
On the other hand, European opinions on nuclear energy are mixed. Germany is the eighth-largest on the list but plans to shutter its last operating reactor in 2022 as part of its nuclear phase-out. France, meanwhile, plans to expand its nuclear capacity.
Which Countries Rely Most on Nuclear Energy?
Although total electricity generation is useful for a high-level global comparison, it’s important to remember that there are some smaller countries not featured above where nuclear is still an important part of the electricity mix.
Here’s a breakdown based on the share of nuclear energy in a country’s electricity mix:
|Rank||Country||Nuclear Share of Electricity Mix|
|#13||South Korea 🇰🇷||29.6%|
|#17||United States 🇺🇸||19.7%|
|#19||United Kingdom 🇬🇧||14.5%|
European countries dominate the leaderboard with 14 of the top 15 spots, including France, where nuclear power is the country’s largest source of electricity.
It’s interesting to note that only a few of these countries are top producers of nuclear in absolute terms. For example, in Slovakia, nuclear makes up 53.6% of the electricity mix—however, the country’s four reactors make up less than 1% of total global operating capacity.
On the flipside, the U.S. ranks 17th by share of nuclear power in its mix, despite producing 31% of global nuclear electricity in 2020. This discrepancy is largely due to size and population. European countries are much smaller and produce less electricity overall than larger countries like the U.S. and China.
The Future of Nuclear Power
The nuclear power landscape is constantly changing.
There were over 50 additional nuclear reactors under construction in 2020, and hundreds more are planned primarily in Asia.
As countries turn away from fossil fuels and embrace carbon-free energy sources, nuclear energy might see a resurgence in the global energy mix despite the phase-outs planned in several countries around the globe.
The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)
Energy fuels led the way as commodity prices surged in 2021, with only precious metals providing negative returns.
The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)
For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.
The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.
This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.
Commodity Prices Surge in 2021
After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.
The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.
Source: U.S. Global Investors
The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.
Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.
Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens
The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.
After crude oil’s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.
Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europe’s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.
Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021’s best commodity.
High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.
Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals
2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.
Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last year’s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investors’ attention.
Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.
On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.
Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.
Grains Bring Steady Gains
In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.
Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021’s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.
As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fed’s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.
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