Breaking Down the Cost of an EV Battery Cell
As electric vehicle (EV) battery prices keep dropping, the global supply of EVs and demand for their batteries are ramping up.
Since 2010, the average price of a lithium-ion (Li-ion) EV battery pack has fallen from $1,200 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to just $132/kWh in 2021.
Inside each EV battery pack are multiple interconnected modules made up of tens to hundreds of rechargeable Li-ion cells. Collectively, these cells make up roughly 77% of the total cost of an average battery pack, or about $101/kWh.
So, what drives the cost of these individual battery cells?
The Cost of a Battery Cell
According to data from BloombergNEF, the cost of each cell’s cathode adds up to more than half of the overall cell cost.
|EV Battery Cell Component||% of Cell Cost|
|Manufacturing and depreciation||24%|
|Housing and other materials||3%|
Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.
Why Are Cathodes so Expensive?
The cathode is the positively charged electrode of the battery. When a battery is discharged, both electrons and positively-charged molecules (the eponymous lithium ions) flow from the anode to the cathode, which stores both until the battery is charged again.
That means that cathodes effectively determine the performance, range, and thermal safety of a battery, and therefore of an EV itself, making them one of the most important components.
They are composed of various metals (in refined forms) depending on cell chemistry, typically including lithium and nickel. Common cathode compositions in modern use include:
- Lithium iron phosphate (LFP)
- Lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC)
- Lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA)
The battery metals that make up the cathode are in high demand, with automakers like Tesla rushing to secure supplies as EV sales charge ahead. In fact, the commodities in the cathode, along with those in other parts of the cell, account for roughly 40% of the overall cell cost.
Other EV Battery Cell Components
Components outside of the cathode make up the other 49% of a cell’s cost.
The manufacturing process, which involves producing the electrodes, assembling the different components, and finishing the cell, makes up 24% of the total cost.
The anode is another significant component of the battery, and it makes up 12% of the total cost—around one-fourth of the cathode’s share. The anode in a Li-ion cell is typically made of natural or synthetic graphite, which tends to be less expensive than other battery commodities.
Although battery costs have been declining since 2010, the recent surge in prices of key battery metals like lithium has cast a shadow of doubt over their future. How will EV battery prices evolve going forward?
Support the Future of Data Storytelling
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but we have a favor to ask. At Visual Capitalist we believe in a world where data can be understood by everyone. That’s why we want to build the VC App - the first app of its kind combining verifiable and transparent data with beautiful, memorable visuals. All available for free.
As a small, independent media company we don’t have the expertise in-house or the funds to build an app like this. So we’re asking our community to help us raise funds on Kickstarter.
EVs vs. Gas Vehicles: What Are Cars Made Out Of?
Electric vehicles can have 6 times more minerals than a combustion vehicle and be on average 340 kg heavier.
EVs vs. Gas Vehicles: What Are Cars Made Out Of?
Electric vehicles (EVs) require a wider range of minerals for their motors and batteries compared to conventional cars.
In fact, an EV can have up to six times more minerals than a combustion vehicle, making them on average 340 kg (750 lbs) heavier.
This infographic, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), compares the minerals used in a typical electric car with a conventional gas car.
Editor’s note: Steel and aluminum are not shown in analysis. Mineral values are for the entire vehicle including batteries and motors.
Batteries Are Heavy
Sales of electric cars are booming and the rising demand for minerals used in EVs is already posing a challenge for the mining industry to keep up. That’s because, unlike gas cars that run on internal combustion engines, EVs rely on huge, mineral-intensive batteries to power the car.
For example, the average 60 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery pack—the same size that’s used in a Chevy Bolt—alone contains roughly 185 kilograms of minerals, or about 10 times as much as in a typical car battery (18 kg).
Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, and graphite are all crucial to battery performance, longevity, and energy density. Furthermore, EVs can contain more than a mile of copper wiring inside the stator to convert electric energy into mechanical energy.
Out of the eight minerals in our list, five are not used in conventional cars: graphite, nickel, cobalt, lithium, and rare earths.
|Mineral||Content in electric vehicles (kg)||Content in conventional cars (kg)|
|Graphite (natural and synthetic)||66.3||0|
Minerals listed for the electric car are based on the IEA’s analysis using a 75 kWh battery pack with a NMC 622 cathode and graphite-based anode.
Since graphite is the primary anode material for EV batteries, it’s also the largest component by weight. Although materials like nickel, manganese, cobalt, and lithium are smaller components individually, together they make up the cathode, which plays a critical role in determining EV performance.
Although the engine in conventional cars is heavier compared to EVs, it requires fewer minerals. Engine components are usually made up of iron alloys, such as structural steels, stainless steels, iron base sintered metals, as well as cast iron or aluminum alloyed parts.
EV motors, however, often rely on permanent magnets made of rare earths and can contain up to a mile of copper wiring that converts electric energy into mechanical energy.
The EV Impact on Metals Markets
The growth of the EV market is not only beginning to have a noticeable impact on the automobile industry but the metals market as well.
EVs and battery storage have already displaced consumer electronics to become the largest consumer of lithium and are set to take over from the stainless steel industry as the largest end-user of nickel by 2040.
In 2021 H2, 84,600 tonnes of nickel were deployed onto roads globally in the batteries of all newly sold passenger EVs combined, 59% more than in 2020 H2. Moreover, another 107,200 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) were deployed globally in new EV batteries, an 88% increase year-on-year.
With rising government support and consumers embracing electric vehicles, securing the supply of the materials necessary for the EV revolution will remain a top priority.
The Key Minerals in an EV Battery
Which key minerals power the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles?
Breaking Down the Key Minerals in an EV Battery
Inside practically every electric vehicle (EV) is a lithium-ion battery that depends on several key minerals that help power it.
Some minerals make up intricate parts within the cell to ensure the flow of electrical current. Others protect it from accidental damage on the outside.
This infographic uses data from the European Federation for Transport and Environment to break down the key minerals in an EV battery. The mineral content is based on the ‘average 2020 battery’, which refers to the weighted average of battery chemistries on the market in 2020.
The Battery Minerals Mix
The cells in the average battery with a 60 kilowatt-hour (kWh) capacity—the same size that’s used in a Chevy Bolt—contained roughly 185 kilograms of minerals. This figure excludes materials in the electrolyte, binder, separator, and battery pack casing.
|Mineral||Cell Part||Amount Contained in the Avg. 2020 Battery (kg)||% of Total|
|Aluminum||Cathode, Casing, Current collectors||35kg||18.9%|
The cathode contains the widest variety of minerals and is arguably the most important and expensive component of the battery. The composition of the cathode is a major determinant in the performance of the battery, with each mineral offering a unique benefit.
For example, NMC batteries, which accounted for 72% of batteries used in EVs in 2020 (excluding China), have a cathode composed of nickel, manganese, and cobalt along with lithium. The higher nickel content in these batteries tends to increase their energy density or the amount of energy stored per unit of volume, increasing the driving range of the EV. Cobalt and manganese often act as stabilizers in NMC batteries, improving their safety.
Altogether, materials in the cathode account for 31.3% of the mineral weight in the average battery produced in 2020. This figure doesn’t include aluminum, which is used in nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) cathode chemistries, but is also used elsewhere in the battery for casing and current collectors.
Meanwhile, graphite has been the go-to material for anodes due to its relatively low cost, abundance, and long cycle life. Since the entire anode is made up of graphite, it’s the single-largest mineral component of the battery. Other materials include steel in the casing that protects the cell from external damage, along with copper, used as the current collector for the anode.
Minerals Bonded by Chemistry
There are several types of lithium-ion batteries with different compositions of cathode minerals. Their names typically allude to their mineral breakdown.
- NMC811 batteries cathode composition:
- NMC523 batteries cathode composition:
Here’s how the mineral contents differ for various battery chemistries with a 60kWh capacity:
With consumers looking for higher-range EVs that do not need frequent recharging, nickel-rich cathodes have become commonplace. In fact, nickel-based chemistries accounted for 80% of the battery capacity deployed in new plug-in EVs in 2021.
Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries do not use any nickel and typically offer lower energy densities at better value. Unlike nickel-based batteries that use lithium hydroxide compounds in the cathode, LFP batteries use lithium carbonate, which is a cheaper alternative. Tesla recently joined several Chinese automakers in using LFP cathodes for standard-range cars, driving the price of lithium carbonate to record highs.
The EV battery market is still in its early hours, with plenty of growth on the horizon. Battery chemistries are constantly evolving, and as automakers come up with new models with different characteristics, it’ll be interesting to see which new cathodes come around the block.
The latest news from our sponsors:
Real Assets3 years ago
Prove Your Metal: Top 10 Strongest Metals on Earth
Real Assets1 year ago
Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Electrification9 months ago
Ranked: The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers
Misc1 year ago
All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization
Real Assets1 year ago
What is a Commodity Super Cycle?
Real Assets1 year ago
How the World’s Top Gold Mining Stocks Performed in 2020
Misc9 months ago
All the Metals We Mined in One Visualization
Real Assets2 years ago
Visualizing the Life Cycle of a Mineral Discovery