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Critical raw materials in strategic technologies - Advanced (Li-ion) battery technology

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Raw materials are crucial to the economy. They form a strong industrial base in which a wide range of goods and applications of daily life as well as modern technologies are produced. Reliable...

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  • May 28, 2021

The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions


Raw materials are crucial to the economy. They form a strong industrial base in which a wide range of goods and applications of daily life as well as modern technologies are produced. Reliable and unhindered access to certain raw materials froms worldwide a upcoming challenge to be solved. Raw materials for the transition to carbon neutrality:


the demand will increase in the future for most raw materials used in solar and wind energy technologies


For some of them, the needs in 2050 may exceed current supply levels if no action is taken. Most of the renewable energy will be produced by wind turbines and solar panels. The rate of deployment of these technologies will increase rapidly, and so will the demand of raw materials needed to build them.


Demand for solar and wind technology materials will also increase, exponentially. Although materials are expected to be used more efficiently in the future, the overall demand will mainly depend on the volume of renewable technologies that will be deployed. Under the most optimistic assumptions for materials use, the demand for most specific materials would decrease.


Supplychain solutions for critical raw materials needed for batteries, electric motors and other components in electric vehicles as electric vehicles are deployed en masse. The supply of critical raw materials used in their manufacture will come under pressure and gain more importance. In addition, there is uncertainty about the speed at which electric vehicle technologies are evolving – affecting the type and quantities of critical raw materials required – and whether alternative technologies or solutions will become available.


Supplies of critical minerals essential for key clean energy technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines need to pick up sharply over the coming decades to meet the world’s climate goals, creating potential energy security hazards that governments must act now to address, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency. 


Perspectives through Advanced (Li-ion) battery technology

Li-ion battery technology is becoming a mature technology employed a wide range of applications. It offers improved power and energy performance compared to the currently used lead–acid batteries. While Li-ion batteries are crucial for defence applications, their development and future uptake are primarily driven by the civilian demand for portable elec-tronic devices, stationary energy storage and electric vehicles (EVs).


Lithium metal oxide batteries use various different metals, such as nickel, cobalt, aluminium and manganese. There are tens of individual materials possibly present in the cell anodes, cathodes, electrolytes and separators. We list the most common raw materials used (and forecasted) in batteries and their functionality.


Various technical and economic trends affect the composition of Li-ion batteries. Recent battery research focuses on new anodes (including lithium metal, silicon metal, titanium and niobium), coating materials (including niobium and titanium), new cathodes (including niobium (CBMM, 2018)) and closer packing (less electrolyte, thinner separators and thinner current collectors). The main aim is to increase the specific energy to lower weight and volume while maintaining power capabilities to reduce charging times, depending on the applications.


For cost-saving reasons, changing the cathode chemistry mix decreases the overall proportion of cobalt in favour of other materials such as nickel and/or aluminium. As a result, this potentially reduces safety and durability which becomes increasingly important. Hence, research focuses on fire-retarding electrolyte additives, ionic liquid electrolytes, the use of ceramic separators, ceramic coating of electrodes and solid-state batteries.



Current supply bottlenecks along the value chain

Of all materials currently used in battery manufacturing, cobalt, natural graphite, and lithium are critical in the 2020 list of CRMs. Research is looking at silicon metal, titanium and niobium to improve energy density, durability, and safety in future Li-ion battery types. Figure 8 shows the key players in the Li-ion cell supply chain.



Raw materials used in batteries

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The EU produces only 1% of all battery raw materials overall. Individual materials also warrant a closer look: 54% of global cobalt mine production originated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by China (8%), Canada (6%), New Caledonia (5%) and Australia (4%). Refined cobalt production comes from China (46%), Finland (13%), Canada and Belgium (both 6%).


Around 90% of global lithium mine output is produced in Chile (40%), Australia (29%) and Argentina (16%), mostly from brine and spodumene sources. China (45%) hosts the majority of the world’s lithium hard-rock minerals refining facilities. Chile (32%) and Argentina (20%) dominate refined lithium capacity from brine operations (EC, 2019). Despite the recent fears of shortages and price spikes, the supply of lithium is expected not to be a major issue for the battery supplychain in the short or medium term. Nevertheless, according to (Roskill , 2018) an increase from current low prices is deemed necessary to support the development of new production capacity for the long-term.


Not all nickel in the global supply chain is suited for Li-ion battery production. High-grade nickel products are dependent on the production of nickel sulphate, which is a principal ingredient in NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt oxide) and NCA (Nickel Cobalt Aluminium oxide) batteries. Due to past price collapses, the investments in refining capacity for nickel have been low, threatening the requested supply of nickel class I (with a purity above 99.8%) in particular (EC, 2019).



Li-ion batteries: an overview of supply risks, bottlenecks and key players along the supply chain

Li-ion batteries: an overview of supply risks, bottlenecks and key players along the supply chain.


For natural graphite there are existing requirements related to flake size distributions and carbon content. These are typically achieved via additional refining steps, where China holds the majority of the capacity (Roskill, 2018) for the production of spherical graphite. How much of global supply is suitable for the production of spherical graphite requires further analysis.


China is the major supplier of anode materials, as well as NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobalt oxide) and LCO (Lithium Cobaltoxide) processed materials, while Japan is the key supplier of NCA cathode material. The EU is fully dependent on anode materials and NCA cathode material supply, and delivers around 18% of NMC materials and 15% of LCO materials.


A critical aspect for the EU is that these volumes are not enough to satisfy the European demand for Li-ion batteries. Asia, represented by China, Japan and South Korea, delivers 86% of the processed materials and components for Li-ion batteries globally. The EU, with 8%, has a relatively small share of the supply. Other countries deliver only 8%, which gives very little margin for supply diversification.


The EU is fully dependent on imports of battery cells, exposing the industry to supply uncertainties and potential high costs. China is the major player in manufacturing Li-ion cells – 66% of global cell production. The EU has very marginal production (0.2% of Li-ion cells). Other suppliers provide around 8% of the global supply, hence the current margin for supply diversification is limited. The EU however is significantly investing in the battery value chain. The EU capacity expected to be available in 2021-2023 will increase to 40 GWh, from 3 GWh currently in place. Several of these production facilities are Asian investments.


These European capacities compare to a current global capacity of 150 GWh identified now (JRC, 2018a). Simultaneously, a large step-up in production capacity of Li-ion cells will be realised by Chinese companies, which will guarantee the dominance of China in the battery market. Original equipment manufacturers, cell manufacturers and suppliers will likely compete globally with each other to secure their battery supply chains and to secure access to the five essential battery raw materials – lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese.



2030/2050 perspectives of raw materials demand

Batteries for e-mobility

Three scenarios for the fleet of EVs containing batteries in the EU are considered. These fleet scenarios are derived on the Low Demand Scenario, Medium Demand Scenario and High Demand Scenario. The LDS scenario considers a reasonably quick uptake of EVs in general, with plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) keeping a significant 20 share of the fleet.


In the MDS scenario, there is quicker uptake of full EVs and PHEV are considered as transition technologies with a significant share of the fleet until 2030 and a rapid decrease afterwards. The HDS scenario is characterised by an extremely quick uptake of full EVs, with PHEV uptake starting its decline already from 2024.


From the fleet figures, the number of batteries entering the EU market is derived and the subsequent EU annual demand of various raw materials is assessed. See Addendum of the methodological notes and assumptions. Forecasted EU annual consumption of materials in batteries of EVs in 2030 and 2050, along with the current demand, is presented in following Figure.



EU fleet of electric vehicles containing batteries according to the three explored scenarios


EU fleet of electric vehicles containing batteries according to the three explored scenarios


EU annual material demand for batteries in EVs in 2030 and 2050

EU annual material demand for batteries in EVs in 2030 and 2050


Batteries for energy storage systems (ESS)

Li-ion batteries are already widely deployed technologies for Energy Storage System (ESS) and they will continue to develop. The storage capacity is derived for the LDS, MDS and HDS scenarios as defined. More methodological notes are available in for the HDS and in the MDS scenarios important capacities of hydrogen storage will be deployed, differently from the LDS scenario. For this reason, in 2050, the Li-ion battery storage capacity in the MDS is assumed lower than the capacity in the LDS.



EU battery storage capacity according to the three explored scenarios

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EU annual material demand for ESS batteries in 2030 and 2050

EU annual material demand for ESS batteries in 2030 and 2050


Figure above presents the forecast of EU annual consumption of materials in ESS batteries in 2030 and 2050. Lower quantities of battery raw materials are required for the MDS scenario compared to LDS due to the large share of FCs in energy storage, as described above.


Section below discusses the combined results for raw materials for batteries for e-mobility and energy storage together



Key observations and recommendations

Li-ion batteries offer improved power and energy performance compared to the currently used lead–acid batteries. They are emerging as an important technology across a wide range of civil and defence applications. As a result of the increasing introduction of EVs (EV), mobile electrical appliances (3C) and stationary decentralised energy storage systems (ESS), demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected to skyrocket yearly (> 30%) for the next 10 years.


The last step of the supply chain, Li-ion cells production, is carrying a very high supply risk for the EU. A high risk is identified for the supply of raw and processed materials, while a medium level of risk is anticipated for the supply of components.


Various estimates suggest that the civilian industry in the EU requires up to 30% of battery cells produced worldwide. This means that cell production capacity needs to be built up in the EU to reduce dependency on the Asian market. Analysis of the civil market shows that the necessary quantities in the EU cannot be serviced in the coming years even by combining the capacities of Asian and European cell manufacturers.


The Strategic Action Plan on Batteries lies down a comprehensive strategy to enhance the EU battery value chain stages. Nevertheless, the EU position could be further strengthened by:



Diversifying the materials supply:

Secure trade agreements with third countries and employ economic diplomacy for cobalt, lithium, natural graphite and nickel class-I to reduce supply risks.



Improving manufacturing opportunities in the EU:

Increase mining, extraction and refining in the EU for key raw materials and processed materials. It is important to create an attractive investment climate as well as specific eco-systems for batteries manufacturing where a range of companies with different expertise in the value chain align themselves. Simultaneously, attracting foreign investments of electron-ics, automobile and battery manufacturing companies can directly support higher environmental and social standards compared to activities elsewhere in the world.



Recycling and reuse, substitution:

Boosting recycling activities in the EU is a no-regret solution that allows key materials such as cobalt, lithium, manganese and nickel to be recovered and reused in the production of new batteries.



Promoting R & D investments, development skills and competences:

Further analysis is recommended on the (economic) mechanisms enabling improved social and environmental standards, without causing competitive disadvantage for European companies involved compared to their non-European counterparts. Specific investments in R &D and in particular in battery-related materials sciences, geology and metallurgical studies are recommended.



Fostering international collaboration and standardisation activities:

Ecodesign requirements are essential for fostering higher levels of reuse, remanufacturing and recycling, including the increased use of recycled content in new products to lower both environmental and raw material footprints.


hatvani ssr - strategic supplychain redundancy



Raw materials are crucial to the economy. They form a strong industrial base in which a wide range of goods and applications of daily life as well as modern technologies are produced. Reliable and unhindered access to certain raw materials froms worldwide a upcoming challenge to be solved. Analytical thinking, goal-oriented approaches and the fascination of "out of the box thinking" enables me to channel challenges in the daily business into opportunities and to create benefits where nobody expects them. I'm fascinated by the impossible and always motivated to initiate and realize them through innovative and creative approaches. 




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