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Lithium Prices Surge on EV Demand from China

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lithium prices

Lithium Prices Surge on EV Demand from China

Amid growing conviction on the bright future of electric vehicles (EVs), the scramble for battery metals like lithium is just beginning.

By the first week of 2022, prices for lithium carbonate, a key ingredient in lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, reached a new high of 300,000 yuan or nearly $47,500 per ton in China.

The above graphic charts the exponential surge in both lithium prices and China’s EV sales between 2015 and 2021.

How Lithium Prices Changed in 2021

After brief spikes in 2016 and 2017, lithium prices were on a downtrend until 2021. With that context, it’s safe to say that the year’s 497% surge was nothing short of dramatic.

Here’s how lithium prices changed in 2021, on a quarterly basis:

DateLithium carbonate price per ton in China*% increase in 2021
January 01, 2021$7,328.900%
April 01, 2021$13,396.9082.70%
July 01, 2021$14,024.4091.40%
October 01, 2021$27,733.70278.50%
December 31, 2021$43,732.80496.70%

*Represents prices for battery-grade lithium carbonate. Converted from yuan to USD via xe.com as of Jan 19, 2022.
Source: TradingEconomics

As producers struggled to keep up with rising demand for battery-grade lithium carbonate, prices increased six-fold in 2021.

This rise was amplified in October when Tesla announced a switch to LFP batteries for all of its standard-range cars. Previously, Tesla only used LFP batteries for cars produced in China.

EV Batteries and the Resurgence of LFP Cathodes

Why did Tesla make the switch?

LFP was the initial cathode chemistry used in lithium-ion batteries for EVs in China, the largest market for EVs. Over time, consumer preferences for longer driving ranges drove manufacturers towards higher-density lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) cathodes, which can manage longer distances on a single charge.

However, most of the cobalt used in NMC batteries comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where cobalt mining is associated with several humanitarian issues. These concerns, along with the high material cost of cobalt, prompted automakers to look at alternative cathode chemistries.

This has caused automakers like Tesla to turn back to LFP cathodes, which do not require cobalt and are relatively cheaper to produce.

Lithium’s Electric Future

According to BloombergNEF, global EV sales were on track to hit 6.3 million units in 2021—nearly double the total of 2020.

However, despite recent growth, EV adoption has a long way to go, with EVs making up just 4.3% of global auto sales in 2020. This suggests that the future is bright for battery metals like lithium, which will likely continue to be in high demand.

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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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