Lithium Price Changes Unlikely To Do Much To EV Battery Prices

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Ongoing fluctuations in the global lithium market are unlikely to significantly impact electric vehicle battery prices — owing to a relatively limited effect on total cell costs — according to a new study from Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering.

So, despite the doubling of lithium market prices over the last half-year or so, electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturers shouldn’t have any existential worries owing to lithium prices — though reduced profit margins are likely.

Lithium prices

It should probably be noted here that known lithium reserves are actually quite substantial, and currently the main limiting factor for availability is simply the relatively slow speed that new production capacity can be brought online.

A recent press release provides more:

…analyzed multiple lithium-ion battery chemistries and cell formats to see whether extreme lithium price variations would have a substantial impact. They examined the impact on cell costs if lithium prices increased to $25/kg, more than four times the historical average, and found that lithium is a relatively small contributor to both the battery mass and manufacturing cost.

“Although the battery cost increases were the largest for high power-density cells, which require a lot of material inputs, cell costs never increased more than 10% even using the most extreme assumptions,” stated Rebecca Ciez, an engineering and public policy PhD student.

As far as lithium availability itself (rather than pricing), Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science engineering and of engineering and public policy, commented: “Lithium is plentiful, and our current sources are not the only sources of lithium — they are merely the cheapest. If prices do quadruple, it becomes, in principle, economical to extract lithium from sea water.” And we have quite a bit of sea water in the world.

“There are many other reasons to pursue different battery chemistries, but access to lithium resources is not one of them.”

The new research was published in the Journal of Power Sources.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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