The Massive Impact of EVs on Commodities
How demand would change in a 100% EV world
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What would happen if you flipped a switch, and suddenly every new car that came off assembly lines was electric?
It’s obviously a thought experiment, since right now EVs have close to just 1% market share worldwide. We’re still years away from EVs even hitting double-digit demand on a global basis, and the entire supply chain is built around the internal combustion engine, anyways.
At the same time, however, the scenario is interesting to consider. One recent projection, for example, put EVs at a 16% penetration by 2030 and then 51% by 2040. This could be conservative depending on the changing regulatory environment for manufacturers – after all, big markets like China, France, and the U.K. have recently announced that they plan on banning gas-powered vehicles in the near future.
The Thought Experiment
We discovered this “100% EV world” thought experiment in a UBS report that everyone should read. As a part of their UBS Evidence Lab initiative, they tore down a Chevy Bolt to see exactly what is inside, and then had 39 of the bank’s analysts weigh in on the results.
After breaking down the metals and other materials used in the vehicle, they noticed a considerable amount of variance from what gets used in a standard gas-powered car. It wasn’t just the battery pack that made a difference – it was also the body and the permanent-magnet synchronous motor that had big implications.
As a part of their analysis, they extrapolated the data for a potential scenario where 100% of the world’s auto demand came from Chevy Bolts, instead of the current auto mix.
If global demand suddenly flipped in this fashion, here’s what would happen:
|Lithium||2,898%||Needed in all lithium-ion batteries|
|Cobalt||1,928%||Used in the Bolt's NMC cathode|
|Rare Earths||655%||Bolt uses neodymium in permanent magnet motor|
|Graphite||524%||Used in the anode of lithium-ion batteries|
|Nickel||105%||Used in the Bolt's NMC cathode|
|Copper||22%||Used in permanent magnet motor and wiring|
|Manganese||14%||Used in the Bolt's NMC cathode|
|Aluminum||13%||Used to reduce weight of vehicle|
|Silicon||0%||Bolt uses 6-10x more semiconductors|
|Steel||-1%||Uses 7% less steel, but fairly minimal impact on market|
|PGMs||-53%||Catalytic converters not needed in EVs|
Some caveats we think are worth noting:
The Bolt is not a Tesla
The Bolt uses an NMC cathode formulation (nickel, manganese, and cobalt in a 1:1:1 ratio), versus Tesla vehicles which use NCA cathodes (nickel, cobalt, and aluminum, in an estimated 16:3:1 ratio). Further, the Bolt uses an permanent-magnet synchronous motor, which is different from Tesla’s AC induction motor – the key difference there being rare earth usage.
Big Markets, small markets:
Lithium, cobalt, and graphite have tiny markets, and they will explode in size with any notable increase in EV demand. The nickel market, which is more than $20 billion per year, will also more than double in this scenario. It’s also worth noting that the Bolt uses low amounts of nickel in comparison to Tesla cathodes, which are 80% nickel.
Meanwhile, the 100% EV scenario barely impacts the steel market, which is monstrous to begin with. The same can be said for silicon, even though the Bolt uses 6-10x more semiconductors than a regular car. The market for PGMs like platinum and palladium, however, gets decimated in this hypothetical scenario – that’s because their use as catalysts in combustion engines are a primary source of demand.
The World’s Largest Nickel Mining Companies
Nickel has emerged as an important battery metal, and these ten nickel mining companies are producing the nickel needed for EV batteries.
The World’s Top 10 Nickel Mining Companies
As the world transitions towards electric vehicles and cleaner energy sources, nickel has emerged as an essential metal for this green revolution.
Needed for the manufacturing of electric vehicles, wind turbines, and nuclear power plants, nickel is also primarily used to make stainless steel alloys more resistant to corrosion and extreme temperatures.
Using data from Mining Intelligence, this graphic shows the top 10 companies by nickel production along with their market cap.
The Biggest Nickel Miners by Production in 2020
Nickel has long been an important mineral for batteries, plating, and steelmaking, but it was only recently added to the USGS’s proposed critical minerals list.
As countries and industries realize the importance of nickel for the development of sustainable technologies, nickel mining companies will be at the forefront of supplying the world with the nickel it needs.
The 850 kt of nickel mined by the top 10 nickel mining companies is worth around $17.3B, with both production and price expected to grow alongside nickel demand.
|Anglo American||$50B||44.0 kt|
Source: Miningintelligence.com, Yahoo Finance
Nickel and palladium miner and smelter Nornickel leads the list with 236 kt of nickel produced in 2020, the majority coming from its Norilsk division of flagship assets in Russia.
With 46% of Nornickel’s energy mix sourced from renewable power, the company is pushing the development of carbon neutral nickel, starting with reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60,000-70,000 tons in 2022.
Vale follows closely behind in production and in its carbon footprint goals. The Brazil-based company’s Long Harbour processing plant in Newfoundland and Labrador produces nickel with a carbon footprint about a third of the industry average–4.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per tonne of nickel compared to Nickel Institute’s average of 13 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
With the top two companies producing more than half of the nickel produced by the top 10 miners, their efforts in decarbonization will pave the way for the nickel mining industry.
The Need for Nickel in the Energy Transition
Alongside the decarbonization of the nickel mining process, nickel itself powers many of the technologies crucial to the energy transition. Vehicle electrification is highly dependent on nickel, with a single electric car requiring more than 87 pounds of nickel, making up almost 1/5th of all the metals required.
With a history of being used in nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries, nickel is now being increasingly used in lithium-ion batteries for its greater energy density and lower cost compared to cobalt. Alongside the increase in usage, not all nickel is suitable for lithium-ion battery production, as batteries require the rarer form of the metal’s deposits known as nickel sulphides.
The more common form of the metal, nickel laterites, are still useful in forming the alloys that make up the frames and various gears of wind turbines.
Nickel is also essential to nuclear power plants, making up nearly a quarter of the metals needed per megawatt generated.
The Future of Nickel Mining and Processing
With nickel in such high demand for batteries and cleaner energy infrastructure, it’s no wonder that global nickel demand is expected to outweigh supply by 2024. The scarcity of high grade nickel sulphide deposits and the carbon intensity to mine them has also incentivized the exploration of new methods of harvesting the metal.
Agro-mining uses plants known as hyperaccumulators to absorb metals found in the soil through their roots, resulting in their leaves containing up to 4% nickel in dry weight. These plants are then harvested and incinerated, with their ash processed to recover the nickel “bio-ore”.
Along with providing us with metals like nickel, lead, and cobalt through a less energy intensive process, agro-mining also helps decontaminate polluted soil.
While new processes like agro-mining won’t replace traditional mining, they’ll be a helpful step forward in closing the future nickel supply gap while helping reduce the carbon footprint of the nickel processing industry.
Visualizing the Natural Graphite Supply Problem
In 2020, China produced 59% of natural graphite and over 80% of battery anode material. Here’s a look at the graphite supply problem.
Visualizing the Natural Graphite Supply Problem
Graphite is a critical mineral for lithium-ion batteries, and its battery demand is expected to grow ten-fold by 2030.
Meeting this increasing demand will require a higher supply of both natural graphite and its synthetic counterpart. However, graphite’s entire supply chain is heavily reliant on China, which makes it vulnerable to disruptions while creating environmental challenges.
This infographic from our sponsor Northern Graphite highlights China’s stronghold over the graphite supply chain and outlines the need for new natural graphite mines.
China’s Dominance in the Graphite Supply Chain
From mining natural graphite to manufacturing battery anodes, China dominates every stage of the graphite supply chain.
For example, in 2020, 59% of global natural graphite production came from China. Mozambique, the second-largest producer, churned out 120,000 tonnes—just one-fifth of Chinese production.
|Country||2020E production, tonnes||% of total|
|Rest of the World 🌎||73,000||6.6%|
China’s massive output makes the other top nine countries look substantially smaller in terms of natural graphite production. Moreover, China also dominates the manufacturing of synthetic graphite and the conversion of graphite into anode material for batteries.
In 2018, China produced nearly 80% of all synthetic graphite, and in 2019, it was responsible for 86% of all battery anode material production. This dependence on graphite supply from China puts the supply chain at risk of political disruptions and makes it unsustainable for the long term.
Unsustainable Production: Natural Graphite vs Synthetic Graphite
The carbon footprint of manufacturing partly depends on the source of energy used in production.
Coal dominates China’s energy mix with a 58% share, followed by petroleum and other liquids. This increases the carbon footprint of all production and especially that of synthetic graphite, which involves energy-intensive heat treatment of petroleum coke.
|Energy source||Type||% of China's energy consumption (2019)|
|Petroleum and other liquids||Fossil fuel||20%|
|Natural gas||Fossil fuel||8%|
Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.
One study found that producing one kg of synthetic graphite releases 4.9kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, in addition to smaller amounts of sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter. While the carbon footprint of natural graphite is substantially smaller, it’s likely that China’s dependence on coal contributes to emissions from production.
Furthermore, concentrated production in China means that all this graphite travels long distances before reaching Western markets like the United States. These extensive shipping distances further exacerbate the risk of disruptions in the graphite supply chain.
The Need for New Sources
As the demand for graphite increases, developing a resilient graphite supply chain is crucial to the European Union and the U.S., both of which have declared graphite a critical mineral.
New graphite mines outside China will be key to meeting graphite’s rising demand and combating a potential supply deficit.
Northern Graphite is positioned to deliver natural graphite in a secure, sustainable, and transparent manner for the green economy.
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