Nickel: The Secret Driver of the Battery Revolution
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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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Visualizing China’s Dominance in Battery Manufacturing (2022-2027P)

This infographic breaks down battery manufacturing capacity by country in 2022 and 2027.

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battery manufacturing capacity by country infographic

Visualizing China’s Dominance in Battery Manufacturing

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

With the world gearing up for the electric vehicle era, battery manufacturing has become a priority for many nations, including the United States.

However, having entered the race for batteries early, China is far and away in the lead.

Using the data and projections behind BloombergNEF’s lithium-ion supply chain rankings, this infographic visualizes battery manufacturing capacity by country in 2022 and 2027p, highlighting the extent of China’s battery dominance.

Battery Manufacturing Capacity by Country in 2022

In 2022, China had more battery production capacity than the rest of the world combined.

RankCountry2022 Battery Cell
Manufacturing Capacity, GWh
% of Total
#1 🇨🇳 China89377%
#2🇵🇱 Poland736%
#3🇺🇸 U.S.706%
#4🇭🇺 Hungary383%
#5🇩🇪 Germany313%
#6🇸🇪 Sweden161%
#7🇰🇷 South Korea151%
#8🇯🇵 Japan121%
#9🇫🇷 France61%
#10🇮🇳 India30.2%
🌍 Other71%
Total1,163100%

With nearly 900 gigawatt-hours of manufacturing capacity or 77% of the global total, China is home to six of the world’s 10 biggest battery makers. Behind China’s battery dominance is its vertical integration across the rest of the EV supply chain, from mining the metals to producing the EVs. It’s also the largest EV market, accounting for 52% of global sales in 2021.

Poland ranks second with less than one-tenth of China’s capacity. In addition, it hosts LG Energy Solution’s Wroclaw gigafactory, the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Overall, European countries (including non-EU members) made up just 14% of global battery manufacturing capacity in 2022.

Although it lives in China’s shadow when it comes to batteries, the U.S. is also among the world’s lithium-ion powerhouses. As of 2022, it had eight major operational battery factories, concentrated in the Midwest and the South.

China’s Near-Monopoly Continues Through 2027

Global lithium-ion manufacturing capacity is projected to increase eightfold in the next five years. Here are the top 10 countries by projected battery production capacity in 2027:

RankCountry2027P Battery Cell
Manufacturing Capacity, GWh
% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China6,19769%
#2🇺🇸 U.S.90810%
#3🇩🇪 Germany5036%
#4🇭🇺 Hungary1942%
#5🇸🇪 Sweden1352%
#6🇵🇱 Poland1121%
#7🇨🇦 Canada1061%
#8🇪🇸 Spain981%
#9🇫🇷 France891%
#10 🇲🇽 Mexico801%
🌍 Other5236%
Total8,945100%

China’s well-established advantage is set to continue through 2027, with 69% of the world’s battery manufacturing capacity.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is projected to increase its capacity by more than 10-fold in the next five years. EV tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act are likely to incentivize battery manufacturing by rewarding EVs made with domestic materials. Alongside Ford and General Motors, Asian companies including Toyota, SK Innovation, and LG Energy Solution have all announced investments in U.S. battery manufacturing in recent months.

Europe will host six of the projected top 10 countries for battery production in 2027. Europe’s current and future battery plants come from a mix of domestic and foreign firms, including Germany’s Volkswagen, China’s CATL, and South Korea’s SK Innovation.

Can Countries Cut Ties With China?

Regardless of the growth in North America and Europe, China’s dominance is unmatched.

Battery manufacturing is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a major one. Most of the parts and metals that make up a battery—like battery-grade lithium, electrolytes, separators, cathodes, and anodes—are primarily made in China.

Therefore, combating China’s dominance will be expensive. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. and Europe will have to invest $87 billion and $102 billion, respectively, to meet domestic battery demand with fully local supply chains by 2030.

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