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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Energy

Charted: 40 Years of Global Energy Production, by Country

Here’s a snapshot of global energy production, and which countries have produced the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

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The Biggest Energy Producers since 1980

Energy was already a hot topic before 2022, but soaring household energy bills and a cost of living crisis has brought it even more to the forefront.

Which countries are the biggest energy producers, and what types of energy are they churning out? This graphic by 911 Metallurgist gives a breakdown of global energy production, showing which countries have used the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

All figures refer to the British thermal unit (BTU), equivalent to the heat required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Editor’s note: Click on any graphic to see a full-width version that is higher resolution

1. Fossil Fuels

Biggest Producers of Fossil Fuel since 1980

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While the U.S. is a dominant player in both oil and natural gas production, China holds the top spot as the world’s largest fossil fuel producer, largely because of its significant production and consumption of coal.

Over the last decade, China has used more coal than the rest of the world, combined.

However, it’s worth noting that the country’s fossil fuel consumption and production have dipped in recent years, ever since the government launched a five-year plan back in 2014 to help reduce carbon emissions.

2. Nuclear Power

Biggest Producers of Nuclear Energy since 1980

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The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power by far, generating about double the amount of nuclear energy as France, the second-largest producer.

While nuclear power provides a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima caused many countries to move away from the energy source, which is why global use has dipped in recent years.

Despite the fact that many countries have recently pivoted away from nuclear energy, it still powers about 10% of the world’s electricity. It’s also possible that nuclear energy will play an expanded role in the energy mix going forward, since decarbonization has emerged as a top priority for nations around the world.

3. Renewable Energy

Biggest Producers of Renewable Energy

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Renewable energy sources (including wind, hydro, and solar) account for about 23% of electricity production worldwide. China leads the front on renewable production, while the U.S. comes in second place.

While renewable energy production has ramped up in recent years, more countries will need to ramp up their renewable energy production in order to reach net-zero targets by 2050.

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Energy

What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

As European gas prices soar, countries are introducing policies to try and curb the energy crisis.

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What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

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.

Europe is scrambling to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

As European gas prices soar eight times their 10-year average, countries are introducing policies to curb the impact of rising prices on households and businesses. These include everything from the cost of living subsidies to wholesale price regulation. Overall, funding for such initiatives has reached $276 billion as of August.

With the continent thrown into uncertainty, the above chart shows allocated funding by country in response to the energy crisis.

The Energy Crisis, In Numbers

Using data from Bruegel, the below table reflects spending on national policies, regulation, and subsidies in response to the energy crisis for select European countries between September 2021 and July 2022. All figures in U.S. dollars.

CountryAllocated Funding Percentage of GDPHousehold Energy Spending,
Average Percentage
🇩🇪 Germany$60.2B1.7%9.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$49.5B2.8%10.3%
🇫🇷 France$44.7B1.8%8.5%
🇬🇧 U.K.$37.9B1.4%11.3%
🇪🇸 Spain$27.3B2.3%8.9%
🇦🇹 Austria$9.1B2.3%8.9%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.6B1.3%12.9%
🇬🇷 Greece$6.8B3.7%9.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$6.2B0.7%8.6%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$5.9B2.5%16.1%
🇧🇪 Belgium$4.1B0.8%8.2%
🇷🇴 Romania$3.8B1.6%12.5%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$2.0B3.6%10.0%
🇸🇪 Sweden$1.9B0.4%9.2%
🇫🇮 Finland$1.2B0.5%6.1%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$1.0B1.0%14.0%
🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0B0.2%9.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.8B1.2%11.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.8B1.1%n/a
🇭🇷 Croatia$0.6B1.1%14.3%
🇱🇻 Lativia$0.5B1.4%11.6%
🇩🇰 Denmark$0.5B0.1%8.2%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.3B0.5%10.4%
🇲🇹 Malta$0.2B1.4%n/a
🇪🇪 Estonia$0.2B0.8%10.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.1B0.7%n/a

Source: Bruegel, IMF. Euro and pound sterling exchange rates to U.S. dollar as of August 25, 2022.

Germany is spending over $60 billion to combat rising energy prices. Key measures include a $300 one-off energy allowance for workers, in addition to $147 million in funding for low-income families. Still, energy costs are forecasted to increase by an additional $500 this year for households.

In Italy, workers and pensioners will receive a $200 cost of living bonus. Additional measures, such as tax credits for industries with high energy usage were introduced, including a $800 million fund for the automotive sector.

With energy bills predicted to increase three-fold over the winter, households in the U.K. will receive a $477 subsidy in the winter to help cover electricity costs.

Meanwhile, many Eastern European countries—whose households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs— are spending more on the energy crisis as a percentage of GDP. Greece is spending the highest, at 3.7% of GDP.

Utility Bailouts

Energy crisis spending is also extending to massive utility bailouts.

Uniper, a German utility firm, received $15 billion in support, with the government acquiring a 30% stake in the company. It is one of the largest bailouts in the country’s history. Since the initial bailout, Uniper has requested an additional $4 billion in funding.

Not only that, Wien Energie, Austria’s largest energy company, received a €2 billion line of credit as electricity prices have skyrocketed.

Deepening Crisis

Is this the tip of the iceberg? To offset the impact of high gas prices, European ministers are discussing even more tools throughout September in response to a threatening energy crisis.

To reign in the impact of high gas prices on the price of power, European leaders are considering a price ceiling on Russian gas imports and temporary price caps on gas used for generating electricity, among others.

Price caps on renewables and nuclear were also suggested.

Given the depth of the situation, the chief executive of Shell said that the energy crisis in Europe would extend beyond this winter, if not for several years.

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