Here at Biker47 we love electric vehicles and with estimates suggesting that by 2020, 7% of all global transportation will be electrically driven, it would appear that plenty of others do too! However, with an ever increasing range of electric cars, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles available, industry concerns have arisen regarding the availability of critical elements involved in the manufacture of the batteries that power these vehicles.
70% of electric vehicles due to be introduced in 2015 will use Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, the same (or very similar) type that power your mobile phone and other techno gadgets and while there are sufficient resources of lithium available to meet global demand, 70% of all lithium deposits are found in just one place – South America’s ABC (Argentina/Bolivia/Chile) region. Currently, automotive consumption of Lithium for batteries accounts for about 25% of global use but this is expected to rise to 40% by 2020. Lithium is also consumed by a number of other applications or sectors like construction, pharmaceuticals, ceramics and glass.
While lithium constitutes only a small portion of the manufacturing costs of batteries, with an estimated 1 million electric vehicles expected to be in use by 2015 there is increasing pressure on lithium suppliers to service this increased demand. To this end, vehicle manufacturers and governments (who are treating lithium as the future energy resource) have started building serious relationships in order to secure their needs. Lithium prices have tripled over the last ten years with current prices ranging between $5500 and $6000 per ton of lithium carbonate depending on application.
With concerns over the stability of supply and the increased demand for lithium, many manufacturers are looking at ways of recycling lithium from used batteries but current recycling processes are just not currently economically viable. Lithium amounts to just 3% of the manufacturing cost of the product it’s used in and other companion elements, such as cobalt and nickel, which are more valuable are the main reason that Li-ion recycling is growing. Though lithium is 100% recyclable, due to less demand for the recycled product and low prices, almost none of the lithium used in consumer batteries is from a recycled source. However, with the increasing number of electric vehicles entering the market in the future and with a significant supply crunch, recycling is expected to be an important factor for consideration in effective material supply for battery production. Projects are underway in the US, Europe and Japan to develop feasible technologies to recycle lithium with research programs such as LithoRec (a German site) and LiBri looking to develop more cost effective and realistic recycling processes.
While fluctuations in the cost of oil have an effect mostly on running costs of a vehicle, major changes in the price or supply of lithium will have an impact on the overall cost of the whole vehicle itself.
So, our advice is to look after your battery as your next replacement could leave you with a nasty hole in your wallet!
Portions of this article have been taken from a report written by industry analyst Aswin Kumar of Frost and Sullivan’s automotive & transportation division.