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How Clean is the Nickel and Lithium in a Battery?

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The following content is sponsored by Wood Mackenzie

How Clean is the Nickel and Lithium in a Battery?

The production of lithium (Li) and nickel (Ni), two key raw materials for batteries, can produce vastly different emissions profiles.

This graphic from Wood Mackenzie shows how nickel and lithium mining can significantly impact the environment, depending on the processes used for extraction.

Nickel Emissions Per Extraction Process

Nickel is a crucial metal in modern infrastructure and technology, with major uses in stainless steel and alloys. Nickel’s electrical conductivity also makes it ideal for facilitating current flow within battery cells.

Today, there are two major methods of nickel mining:

  • From laterite deposits, which are predominantly found in tropical regions. This involves open-pit mining, where large amounts of soil and overburden need to be removed to access the nickel-rich ore.

  • From sulphide ores, which involves underground or open-pit mining of ore deposits containing nickel sulphide minerals.

Although nickel laterites make up 70% of the world’s nickel reserves, magmatic sulphide deposits produced 60% of the world’s nickel over the last 60 years.

Compared to laterite extraction, sulphide mining typically emits fewer tonnes of CO2 per tonne of nickel equivalent as it involves less soil disturbance and has a smaller physical footprint:

Ore TypeProcessProductTonnes of CO2 per tonne of Ni equivalent
SulphidesElectric / Flash SmeltingRefined Ni / Matte6
LateriteHigh Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL)Refined Ni / Mixed Sulpide Precipitate / Mixed Hydroxide Precipitate13.7
LateriteBlast Furnace / RKEFNickel Pig Iron / Matte45.1

Nickel extraction from laterites can impose significant environmental impacts, such as deforestation, habitat destruction, and soil erosion.

Additionally, laterite ores often contain high levels of moisture, requiring energy-intensive drying processes to prepare them for further extraction. After extraction, the smelting of laterites requires a significant amount of energy, which is largely sourced from fossil fuels.

Although sulphide mining is cleaner, it poses other environmental challenges. The extraction and processing of sulphide ores can release sulphur compounds and heavy metals into the environment, potentially leading to acid mine drainage and contamination of water sources if not managed properly.

In addition, nickel sulphides are typically more expensive to mine due to their hard rock nature.

Lithium Emissions Per Extraction Process

Lithium is the major ingredient in rechargeable batteries found in phones, hybrid cars, electric bikes, and grid-scale storage systems. 

Today, there are two major methods of lithium extraction:

  • From brine, pumping lithium-rich brine from underground aquifers into evaporation ponds, where solar energy evaporates the water and concentrates the lithium content. The concentrated brine is then further processed to extract lithium carbonate or hydroxide.

  • Hard rock mining, or extracting lithium from mineral ores (primarily spodumene) found in pegmatite deposits. Australia, the world’s leading producer of lithium (46.9%), extracts lithium directly from hard rock.

Brine extraction is typically employed in countries with salt flats, such as Chile, Argentina, and China. It is generally considered a lower-cost method, but it can have environmental impacts such as water usage, potential contamination of local water sources, and alteration of ecosystems.

The process, however, emits fewer tonnes of CO2 per tonne of lithium-carbonate-equivalent (LCE) than mining:

SourceOre TypeProcessTonnes of CO2
per tonne of LCE
MineralSpodumeneMine9
Mineral Petalite, lepidolite and othersMine 8
BrineN/AExtraction/Evaporation3

Mining involves drilling, blasting, and crushing the ore, followed by flotation to separate lithium-bearing minerals from other minerals. This type of extraction can have environmental impacts such as land disturbance, energy consumption, and the generation of waste rock and tailings.

Sustainable Production of Lithium and Nickel

Environmentally responsible practices in the extraction and processing of nickel and lithium are essential to ensure the sustainability of the battery supply chain.

This includes implementing stringent environmental regulations, promoting energy efficiency, reducing water consumption, and exploring cleaner technologies. Continued research and development efforts focused on improving extraction methods and minimizing environmental impacts are crucial.

Sign up to Wood Mackenzie’s Inside Track to learn more about the impact of an accelerated energy transition on mining and metals.

 

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Electrification

Charted: 4 Reasons Why Lithium Could Be the Next Gold Rush

Visual Capitalist has partnered with EnergyX to show why drops in prices and growing demand may make now the right time to invest in lithium.

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The teaser image shows a bubble chart showing that the price of a Tesla is similar to that of other major auto manufacturers.

4 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Lithium

Lithium’s importance in powering EVs makes it a linchpin of the clean energy transition and one of the world’s most precious minerals.

In this graphic, Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to explore why now may be the time to invest in lithium.

1. Lithium Prices Have Dropped

One of the most critical aspects of evaluating an investment is ensuring that the asset’s value is higher than its price would indicate. Lithium is integral to powering EVs, and, prices have fallen fast over the last year:

DateLiOH·H₂O*Li₂CO₃**
Feb 2023$76$71
March 2023$71$61
Apr 2023$43$33
May 2023$43$33
June 2023$47$45
July 2023$44$40
Aug 2023$35$35
Sept 2023$28$27
Oct 2023$24$23
Nov 2023$21$21
Dec 2023$17$16
Jan 2024$14$15
Feb 2024$13$14

Note: Monthly spot prices were taken as close to the 14th of each month as possible.
*Lithium hydroxide monohydrate (MB-LI-0033)
**Lithium carbonate (MB-LI-0029)

2. Lithium-Ion Battery Prices Are Also Falling

The drop in lithium prices is just one reason to invest in the metal. Increasing economies of scale, coupled with low commodity prices, have caused the cost of lithium-ion batteries to drop significantly as well.

In fact, BNEF reports that between 2013 and 2023, the price of a Li-ion battery dropped by 82%.

YearPrice per KWh
2023$139
2022$161
2021$150
2020$160
2019$183
2018$211
2017$258
2016$345
2015$448
2014$692
2013$780

3. EV Adoption is Sustainable

One of the best reasons to invest in lithium is that EVs, one of the main drivers behind the demand for lithium, have reached a price point similar to that of traditional vehicle.

According to the Kelly Blue Book, Tesla’s average transaction price dropped by 25% between 2022 and 2023, bringing it in line with many other major manufacturers and showing that EVs are a realistic transport option from a consumer price perspective.

ManufacturerSeptember 2022September 2023
BMW$69,000$72,000
Ford$54,000$56,000
Volkswagon$54,000$56,000
General Motors$52,000$53,000
Tesla$68,000$51,000

4. Electricity Demand in Transport is Growing

As EVs become an accessible transport option, there’s an investment opportunity in lithium. But possibly the best reason to invest in lithium is that the IEA reports global demand for the electricity in transport could grow dramatically by 2030:

Transport Type202220252030
Buses 🚌23,000 GWh50,000 GWh130,000 GWh
Cars 🚙65,000 GWh200,000 GWh570,000 GWh
Trucks 🛻4,000 GWh15,000 GWh94,000 GWh
Vans 🚐6,000 GWh16,000 GWh72,000 GWh

The Lithium Investment Opportunity

Lithium presents a potentially classic investment opportunity. Lithium and battery prices have dropped significantly, and recently, EVs have reached a price point similar to other vehicles. By 2030, the demand for clean energy, especially in transport, will grow dramatically.

With prices dropping and demand skyrocketing, now is the time to invest in lithium.

EnergyX is poised to exploit lithium demand with cutting-edge lithium extraction technology capable of extracting 300% more lithium than current processes.

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Ranked: The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2023

Asia dominates this ranking of the world’s largest EV battery manufacturers in 2023.

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A treemap showing the top 10 EV battery manufacturers in 2023

The Top 10 EV Battery Manufacturers in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Despite efforts from the U.S. and EU to secure local domestic supply, all major EV battery manufacturers remain based in Asia.

In this graphic we rank the top 10 EV battery manufacturers by total battery deployment (measured in megawatt-hours) in 2023. The data is from EV Volumes.

Chinese Dominance

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) has swiftly risen in less than a decade to claim the title of the largest global battery group.

The Chinese company now has a 34% share of the market and supplies batteries to a range of made-in-China vehicles, including the Tesla Model Y, SAIC’s MG4/Mulan, and Li Auto models.

CompanyCountry2023 Production
(megawatt-hour)
Share of Total
Production
CATL🇨🇳China242,70034%
BYD🇨🇳China115,91716%
LG Energy Solution🇰🇷Korea108,48715%
Panasonic🇯🇵Japan56,5608%
SK On🇰🇷Korea40,7116%
Samsung SDI🇰🇷Korea35,7035%
CALB🇨🇳China23,4933%
Farasis Energy🇨🇳China16,5272%
Envision AESC🇨🇳China8,3421%
Sunwoda🇨🇳China6,9791%
Other-56,0408%

In 2023, BYD surpassed LG Energy Solution to claim second place. This was driven by demand from its own models and growth in third-party deals, including providing batteries for the made-in-Germany Tesla Model Y, Toyota bZ3, Changan UNI-V, Venucia V-Online, as well as several Haval and FAW models.

The top three battery makers (CATL, BYD, LG) collectively account for two-thirds (66%) of total battery deployment.

Once a leader in the EV battery business, Panasonic now holds the fourth position with an 8% market share, down from 9% last year. With its main client, Tesla, now effectively sourcing batteries from multiple suppliers, the Japanese battery maker seems to be losing its competitive edge in the industry.

Overall, the global EV battery market size is projected to grow from $49 billion in 2022 to $98 billion by 2029, according to Fortune Business Insights.

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