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Value of battery metals in new electric cars set new record

Tesla Model S base. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The EV Metal Index, which tracks the value of battery metals in newly registered passenger EVs (including full battery, plug-in and conventional hybrids) around the world, totaled $877.9 million in September, an increase of 180% over the same month last year and 46.4% more than in August

Year to date, the index totals $4.69 billion, which means that almost as much EV battery metal business was done in the first nine months of 2021 than during 2020 and 2019. 

Total battery capacity of the 990,000 EVs sold during September set a new monthly record, surging 105% year on year to 31.7 GWh, according to Adamas Intelligence, which tracks demand for EV batteries by chemistry, cell supplier and capacity in over 100 countries. 

To produce the most accurate data, the monthly battery capacity deployed numbers in the MINING.COM EV Metal Index do not include cars leaving assembly lines, those on dealership lots or in the wholesale supply chain, only end-user registered vehicles.  

In September 2021, a record 18.9 kilotonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent were deployed onto roads globally in batteries of all newly-sold passenger EVs, double that of the previous year and a 36% increase over August, according to Adamas.

Average lithium on a per vehicle basis was up 25% year over year in September, jumping from 15.3kg to 19.2kg, a testament to the relative popularity of full electric cars over hybrids.

Carbonate made up 55% of the total versus hydroxide’s 45%, with the latter favoured in the manufacture of high-nickel content batteries. 

Lithium prices have soared year to date, approaching $30,000 a tonne (hydroxide ex-works China end-October) according to  Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a battery supply chain researcher and price reporting agency. 

The lithium subindex topped $200 million for the first time in September. As a percentage of the overall index value, lithium now has the biggest share, surpassing that of nickel. From a low of 20% last year when prices spent several months under $7,000 a tonne to just over 40% now. 

At just over 3,000 tonnes, cobalt deployment rose 48% in September compared to the same month last year and 48% increase over last year and a 23% month-on-month jump. On a per vehicle basis cobalt use dropped 8% from last year.

Cobalt used in the battery supply chain has surged over the past year, topping $60,000 a tonne compared to under $40,000 this time in 2020.

Nickel use was up 54% compared to the same month last year with a new record during the month of 14.7 kilotonnes while on a per vehicle basis nickel use declined 4% to under 15kg. Nickel sulphate traded just around $22,000 a tonne (100% Ni basis) level in September, according to Benchmark data. 

Nickel and cobalt loadings on a sales weighted average basis have been easing as cathode chemistries, which forego the metals altogether like lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries gain in popularity, particularly in China. 

In September 2021, over 28.5 kilotonnes of synthetic and natural graphite were deployed globally in batteries of all newly-sold passenger EVs, also a record tally. The monthly total represents a 120% jump over the same month last year. On a per-vehicle basis, graphite use is up a whopping 38% year on year to just shy of 29kg when taking into account full battery, plug-in hybrid and conventional hybrid vehicles. 

Graphite prices have increased 12.8% since September 2020 —at $726 a tonne according to Benchmark data, after spending all of 2020 below $700 and hitting a low of $644 in September. Prices for the anode material peaked above $1,500 a tonne in early 2012.