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Electrification

EVs vs. Gas Vehicles: What Are Cars Made Out Of?

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What are Cars Made Out of? Electric Vehicles vs Gas Cars

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.

MineralContent in electric vehicles (kg)Content in conventional cars (kg)
Graphite (natural and synthetic)66.30
Copper53.222.3
Nickel39.90
Manganese24.511.2
Cobalt13.30
Lithium8.90
Rare earths0.50
Zinc0.10.1
Others0.30.3

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.

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Electrification

The Key Minerals in an EV Battery

Which key minerals power the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles?

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minerals in an EV battery infographic

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.

MineralCell PartAmount Contained in the Avg. 2020 Battery (kg)% of Total
GraphiteAnode52kg28.1%
AluminumCathode, Casing, Current collectors35kg18.9%
NickelCathode29kg15.7%
CopperCurrent collectors20kg10.8%
SteelCasing20kg10.8%
ManganeseCathode10kg5.4%
CobaltCathode8kg4.3%
LithiumCathode6kg3.2%
IronCathode5kg2.7%
TotalN/A185kg100%

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.

For example:

  • NMC811 batteries cathode composition:
    80% nickel
    10% manganese
    10% cobalt
  • NMC523 batteries cathode composition:
    50% nickel
    20% manganese
    30% cobalt

Here’s how the mineral contents differ for various battery chemistries with a 60kWh capacity:

battery minerals by chemistry

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.

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Electrification

Charted: Home Heating Systems in the U.S.

Which fuels do U.S. home heating systems use?

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home heating systems in the U.S. broken down by share of fuel sources

Charted: Home Heating Systems in the U.S.

Fossil fuel combustion for the heating of commercial and residential buildings accounts for roughly 13% of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Decarbonizing the U.S. economy requires a switch from fossil fuel-combusting heating solutions to renewable energy sources that generate electricity.

Currently, the majority of new homes in the U.S. still combust natural gas for heating through forced-air furnaces or boilers. Just like cars need to be electric, homes will need to switch to electricity-powered heating systems that use renewable energy sources.

The graphic above uses census data to break down the different heating systems and fuels that are warming the 911,000 single-family homes built in the U.S. in 2020.

Types of Home Heating Systems

Most American homes use one of the following three heating systems:

  • Forced-air Furnaces: These typically have a burner in a furnace that is fueled by natural gas. A blower forces cold air through a heat exchanger which warms it up before it flows through ducts that heat the home with air as the medium.
  • Heat Pumps: The most common type of heat pumps are air-source heat pumps, which collect hot air from outside the home and concentrate it before pumping it through ducts that heat the air inside. They are usually powered by electricity. During warmer months, heat pumps can reverse themselves to cool the home, transferring hot air from the inside to the outdoors.
  • Hot Water/Steam: These systems typically work by boiling water (or generating steam) to the appropriate temperature using gas and sending it through a home’s pipes to radiators that heat the air.

How Home Heating Fuels Have Changed

U.S. home heating has been going through a transition over the last two decades. Electricity has steadily been replacing gas and biofuel/wood-powered home heating systems for new homes, and powers almost half of the heating systems in single-family homes built in 2020.

Here’s how the share of heat sources for new houses changed between 2000 and 2020:

Fuel2000 % of Heating for New Homes2020 % of Heating for New Homes
Gas70%55%
Electricity27%45%
Other4%1%

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

While electricity’s share has grown since 2000, most American homes are still heated with gas largely because of the fossil fuel’s affordability.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), households relying on gas for space heating are expected to spend an average of $746 over the winter months, compared to $1,268 for electricity, and $1,734 for heating oil.

Heating in Newly-Built Houses Today

Of the 911,000 new single-family homes, 538,000 houses installed forced-air furnaces. Of these, 83% or nearly 450,000 homes used gas as the primary heating source, with 16% opting for electrified furnaces. By contrast, 88% of the 353,000 homes that installed heat pumps relied on electricity.

Here’s how the heating systems and fuels break down for single-family homes built in 2020:

System UsedHouses Built in 2020% Powered by Gas% Powered by Electricity% Powered by Other
Forced-Air Furnace538,00083%16%<0.5%
Heat Pump353,00012%88%0%
Hot Water/Steam8,00089%5%7%
Other/None12,00012%41%47%

Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Fewer than 1% of new single-family homes used hot water or steam systems, and the majority of those that did relied on gas as the primary fuel. Around 1.3% of new homes used other systems like electric baseboard heaters, smaller space heaters, panel heaters, or radiators.

While gas remains the dominant heating source today, efforts to decarbonize the U.S. economy could further prompt a shift towards electricity-based heating systems, with electric heat pumps likely taking up a larger piece of the pie.

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