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:
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
Tesla is Now the World’s Most Valuable Automaker
Thanks to a surging stock price, Tesla is now the world’s most valuable automaker – surpassing industry giants Toyota and Volkswagen.
Tesla is Now the World’s Most Valuable Automaker
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Tesla continues to reach new heights.
The company, which began as a problem-plagued upstart a little over 15 years ago, has now become the world’s most valuable automaker – surpassing industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.
This milestone comes after a year of steady growth, which only hit a speed bump earlier this year due to COVID-19’s negative impact on new car sales. Despite these headwinds, Tesla’s valuation has jumped by an impressive 375% since this time last year.
How does Tesla’s value continue to balloon, despite repeated cries that the company is overvalued? Will shortsellers declare a long-awaited victory, or is there still open road ahead?
Tesla’s Race to the Top
Earlier this year, Tesla hit an impressive milestone, surpassing the value of GM and Ford combined. Since then, the automaker’s stock has continued it’s upward trajectory.
Thanks to the popularity of the Model 3, Tesla sold more cars in 2019 than it did in the previous two years combined:
As well, the company is taking big steps to up its production capacity.
Austin, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma are currently rolling out the incentives to attract Tesla’s new U.S.-based factory. The company is also increasing its global presence with the construction of Giga Berlin, it’s first European production facility, as well as completing the ongoing expansion of its Giga Shanghai facility in China.
Battle of the Namesakes
Tesla’s most recent price bump was fueled in part by a leaked internal memo from Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, urging the company’s staff to go “all out” on bringing electric semi trucks to the global market at scale.
It’s time to go all out and bring the Tesla Semi to volume production.
– Elon Musk
Of course, Musk’s enthusiasm for semi trucks isn’t coming from nowhere. Another company, Nikola (also named after famed inventor Nikola Tesla), is focused on electrifying the two million or so semi trucks in operation in the U.S. market.
Although Nikola has yet to produce a vehicle, its market cap has surged to $24 billion – which puts its valuation nearly on par with Ford. Much like Tesla, the company already has preorders from major companies looking to add electric-powered trucks to their delivery fleets.
For major brands looking to hit ESG targets, zero-emission heavy-duty trucks is an easy solution, particularly if the vehicles also live up to claims of being cheaper over the vehicle’s lifecycle. The big question is which automaker will capitalize on this mega market first?
6 Ways Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Can Help Transition to Clean Energy
Here are six reasons why hydrogen and fuel cells can be a fit for helping with the transition to a lower-emission energy mix.
While fossil fuels offer an easily transportable, affordable, and energy-dense fuel for everyday use, the burning of this fuel creates pollutants, which can concentrate in city centers degrading the quality of air and life for residents.
The world is looking for alternative ways to ensure the mobility of people and goods with different power sources, and electric vehicles have high potential to fill this need.
But did you know that not all electric vehicles produce their electricity in the same way?
Hydrogen: An Alternative Vision for the EV
The world obsesses over battery technology and manufacturers such as Tesla, but there is an alternative fuel that powers rocket ships and is road-ready. Hydrogen is set to become an important fuel in the clean energy mix of the future.
Today’s infographic comes from the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA) and it outlines the case for hydrogen.
Hydrogen Supply and Demand
Some scientists have made the argument that it was not hydrogen that caused the infamous Hindenburg to burst into flames. Instead, the powdered aluminum coating of the zeppelin, which provided its silver look, was the culprit. Essentially, the chemical compound coating the dirigibles was a crude form of rocket fuel.
Industry and business have safely used, stored, and transported hydrogen for 50 years, while hydrogen-powered electric vehicles have a proven safety record with over 10 million miles of operation. In fact, hydrogen has several properties that make it safer than fossil fuels:
- 14 times lighter than air and disperses quickly
- Flames have low radiant heat
- Less combustible
Since hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, it can be produced almost anywhere with a variety of methods, including from fuels such as natural gas, oil, or coal, and through electrolysis. Fossil fuels can be treated with extreme temperatures to break their hydrocarbon bonds, releasing hydrogen as a byproduct. The latter method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Both methods produce hydrogen for storage, and later consumption in an electric fuel cell.
Fuel Cell or Battery?
Battery and hydrogen-powered vehicles have the same goal: to reduce the environmental impact from oil consumption. There are two ways to measure the environmental impact of vehicles, from “Well to Wheels” and from “Cradle to Grave”.
Well to wheels refers to the total emissions from the production of fuel to its use in everyday life. Meanwhile, cradle to grave includes the vehicle’s production, operation, and eventual destruction.
According to one study, both of these measurements show that hydrogen-powered fuel cells significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. For every kilometer a hydrogen-powered vehicle drives it produces only 2.7 grams per kilometer (g/km) of carbon dioxide while a battery electric vehicle produces 20 g/km.
During everyday use, both options offer zero emissions, high efficiency, an electric drive, and low noise, but hydrogen offers weight-saving advantages that battery-powered vehicles do not.
In one comparison, Toyota’s Mirai had a maximum driving range of 312 miles, 41% further than Tesla’s Model 3 220-mile range. The Mirai can refuel in minutes, while the Model 3 has to recharge in 8.5 hours for only a 45% charge at a specially configured quick charge station not widely available.
However, the world still lacks the significant infrastructure to make this hydrogen-fueled future possible.
Large scale production delivers economic amounts of hydrogen. In order to achieve this scale, an extensive infrastructure of pipelines and fueling stations are required. However to build this, the world needs global coordination and action.
Countries around the world are laying the foundations for a hydrogen future. In 2017, CEOs from around the word formed the Hydrogen Council with the mission to accelerate the investment in hydrogen.
Globally, countries have announced plans to build 2,800 hydrogen refueling stations by 2025. German pipeline operators presented a plan to create a 1,200-kilometer grid by 2030 to transport hydrogen across the country, which would be the world’s largest in planning.
Fuel cell technology is road-ready with hydrogen infrastructure rapidly catching up. Hydrogen can deliver the power for a new clear energy era.
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