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Nickel: The Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution

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Nickel: The Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution

Nickel: The Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution

Commodity markets are being turned upside down by the EV revolution.

But while lithium and cobalt deservedly get a lot of the press, there is another metal that will also be changed forever by increasing penetration rates of EVs in the automobile market: nickel.

Today’s infographic comes to us from North American Nickel and it dives into nickel’s rapidly increasing role in lithium-ion battery chemistries, as well as interesting developments on the supply end of the spectrum.

Nickel’s Vital Role

Nickel’s role in lithium-ion batteries may still be underappreciated for now, but certainly one person familiar with the situation has been vocal about the metal’s importance.

Our cells should be called Nickel-Graphite, because primarily the cathode is nickel and the anode side is graphite with silicon oxide.

– Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and co-founder

Indeed, nickel is the most important metal by mass in the lithium-ion battery cathodes used by EV manufacturers – it makes up about 80% of an NCA cathode, and about one-third of NMC or LMO-NMC cathodes. More importantly, as battery formulations evolve, it’s expected that we’ll use more nickel, not less.

According to UBS, in their recent report on tearing down a Chevy Bolt, here is how NMC cathodes are expected to evolve:

CathodeYearNickelManganeseCobalt
NMCPresent33%33%33%
NMC201860%20%20%
NMC202080%10%10%

The end result? In time, nickel will make up 80% of the mass in both NCA and NMC cathodes, used by companies like Tesla and Chevrolet.

Impact on the Nickel Market

Nickel, which is primarily used for the production of stainless steel, is already one of the world’s most important metal markets at over $20 billion in size. For this reason, how much the nickel market is affected by battery demand depends largely on EV penetration.

EVs currently constitute about 1% of auto demand – this translates to 70,000 tonnes of nickel demand, about 3% of the total market. However, as EV penetration goes up, nickel demand increases rapidly as well.

A shift of just 10% of the global car fleet to EVs would create demand for 400,000 tonnes of nickel, in a 2 million tonne market. Glencore sees nickel shortage as EV demand burgeons.

– Ivan Glasenberg, Glencore CEO

The Supply Kicker

Even though much more nickel will be needed for lithium-ion batteries, there is an interesting wrinkle in that equation: most nickel in the global supply chain is not actually suited for battery production.

Today’s nickel supply comes from two very different types of deposits:

  • Nickel Laterites: Low grade, bulk-tonnage deposits that make up 62.4% of current production.
  • Nickel Sulfides: Higher grade, but rarer deposits that make up 37.5% of current production.

Many laterite deposits are used to produce nickel pig iron and ferronickel, which are cheap inputs to make Chinese stainless steel. Meanwhile, nickel sulfide deposits are used to make nickel metal as well as nickel sulfate. The latter salt, nickel sulfate, is what’s used primarily for electroplating and lithium-ion cathode material, and less than 10% of nickel supply is in sulfate form.

Not surprisingly, major mining companies see this as an opportunity. In August 2017, mining giant BHP Billiton announced it would invest $43.2 million to build the world’s biggest nickel sulfate plant in Australia.

But even investments like this may not be enough to capture rising demand for nickel sulfate.

Although the capacity to produce nickel sulfate is expanding rapidly, we cannot yet identify enough nickel sulfate capacity to feed the projected battery forecasts.

– Wood Mackenzie

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Batteries

Animation: The Entire History of Tesla in 5 Minutes

Everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.

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How did Tesla accelerate from 0-60 mph in such a short period of time?

Today’s five-minute-long animation is presented in association with Global Energy Metals, and it tells you everything you need to know about the history of Tesla, including Elon Musk’s vision for the future of the iconic electric car company.

Watch the video:

The video primarily keys in on Tesla’s successes and the setbacks the company has faced along the way – it also shows that Tesla was able to pass Ford in market value just seven years after the company’s IPO.

The Rise of Tesla Series

The above video is the culmination of our Rise of Tesla Series, which also includes three full-length infographics that tell a more in-depth story about the history of Tesla, and what the company aspires to:

1. Tesla’s Origin Story (View infographic)

  • What was the vision behind the founding of Tesla?
  • Early hurdles faced by the company, including its near escape from the brink of bankruptcy
  • Elon Musk’s takeover of the company, and the dramatic actions taken to keep it alive
  • A timeline showing the development of the Roadster, and why this first car matters

2. Tesla’s Journey: How it Passed Ford in Value (View Infographic)

  • The company’s plan to parlay the Roadster’s success into a viable long-term company strategy
  • Introducing the Tesla Model S and Model X
  • How the company would use the Gigafactory concept to bring economies of scale to battery production
  • Other milestones: Powerwall, Autopilot, and Tesla’s growing Supercharger network
  • The announcement of the Model 3

3. Elon Musk’s Vision for the Future of Tesla (View Infographic)

  • Detailing Tesla’s ambitions for the future, including how it plans to productize the factory
  • Other vehicles Tesla plans to release, including the Tesla Semi and a future ultra low cost model
  • How Tesla plans to combine fully autonomous cars with the future sharing economy
  • Exploding demand for lithium-ion batteries, and why Tesla is planning on building additional Gigafactories

Part 1: TeslaPart 2: From IPO and OnwardsVisualizing Elon Musk

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Automotive

How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?

Have you ever wondered how much copper is in an electric vehicle? This infographic shows the metal’s properties as well as the quantity of copper used.

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How Much Copper is in an Electric Vehicle?

Copper’s special relationship with electricity has been apparent since ship designers first regularly began installing copper to protect the masts of wooden ships from lightning in the early 19th century.

Today, of course, you might be more used to seeing copper’s electrical applications through the use of power lines, telephone wires, and wiring in practically every major home appliance you own.

Millions of tons get used for these applications every year, but it is still early days for copper’s use in electrification. That’s because copper will continue to be a critical component of the green energy revolution, thanks to the rising adoption of battery-powered vehicles.

Why Copper?

Today’s visualization comes to us from Canadian Platinum Corp., and it focuses on showing how much copper is in an electric vehicle, along with the properties that make it the ideal choice for an EV-powered future.

Here is why copper is a crucial component to vehicle manufacturers:

Cost
Copper costs roughly $0.20 per ounce, compared to silver ($15/oz) and gold ($1200/oz), making it by far the cheapest option for electrical wire.

Conductivity:
Copper is nearly as conductive as silver – the most conductive metal – but comes at a fraction of the cost.

Ductility:
Copper can easily be shaped into wire, which is important for most electrical applications.

It’s also important to note that temperature does not affect copper’s conductivity, which makes the metal ideal for automobiles in all climates.

Copper in Gas vs. Electric Vehicles

The UBS Evidence Lab tore apart a traditional gas-powered vehicle as well as an EV to compare the different quantities of raw materials used.

What they found was crucial: there is 80% more copper in a Chevrolet Bolt, in comparison to a similar-sized Volkswagen Golf.

The major reason for this is that at the heart of every EV is an electric motor, which is built with copper, steel, and permanent magnets (rare earths). Electric motors tend to be much simpler than gas-powered engines, which have hundreds of moving parts.

Incredibly, in an electric motor, there can be more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator.

The More Electric, the More Copper

According to Copper.org, along the scale from gas-powered cars to fully electrical vehicles, copper use increases dramatically.

Conventional gas-powered cars contain 18 to 49 lbs. of copper while a battery-powered EV contains 183 lbs. Meanwhile, for a fully electrical bus, a whopping 814 lbs. of copper is needed.

With the rapidly increasing adoption of electric vehicles, copper will be an essential material for the coming electrification of all forms of ground transport.

Copper is at the heart of the electric vehicle and the world will need more. By 2027, copper demand stemming from EVs is expected to increase by 1.7 million tonnes, which is a number just shy of China’s entire copper production in 2017.

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