As electric vehicle (EV) battery prices keep dropping, the global supply of EVs and demand for their batteries are ramping up.
Since 2010, the average price of a lithium-ion (Li-ion) EV battery pack has fallen from $1,200 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to just $132/kWh in 2021.
Inside each EV battery pack are multiple interconnected modules made up of tens to hundreds of rechargeable Li-ion cells. Collectively, these cells make up roughly 77% of the total cost of an average battery pack, or about $101/kWh.
So, what drives the cost of these individual battery cells?
According to data from BloombergNEF, the cost of each cell’s cathode adds up to more than half of the overall cell cost.
The cathode is the positively charged electrode of the battery. When a battery is discharged, both electrons and positively-charged molecules (the eponymous lithium ions) flow from the anode to the cathode, which stores both until the battery is charged again.
That means that cathodes effectively determine the performance, range, and thermal safety of a battery, and therefore of an EV itself, making them one of the most important components.
They are composed of various metals (in refined forms) depending on cell chemistry, typically including lithium and nickel. Common cathode compositions in modern use include:
The battery metals that make up the cathode are in high demand, with automakers like Tesla rushing to secure supplies as EV sales charge ahead. In fact, the commodities in the cathode, along with those in other parts of the cell, account for roughly 40% of the overall cell cost.
Components outside of the cathode make up the other 49% of a cell’s cost.
The manufacturing process, which involves producing the electrodes, assembling the different components, and finishing the cell, makes up 24% of the total cost.
The anode is another significant component of the battery, and it makes up 12% of the total cost—around one-fourth of the cathode’s share. The anode in a Li-ion cell is typically made of natural or synthetic graphite, which tends to be less expensive than other battery commodities.
Although battery costs have been declining since 2010, the recent surge in prices of key battery metals like lithium has cast a shadow of doubt over their future. How will EV battery prices evolve going forward?
(This article first appeared in the Visual Capitalist Elements)