Batteries for Electric Cars Explained

By Kirsteen Mackay


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At the heart of the electrification transformation lies the EV battery. Comprised of essential minerals, these batteries are the lifeblood of every electric car.

Exploded view of Electric Vehicle's battery pack isolated on white background. 3D rendering image.
Batteries for electric cars

Discover what goes into the makeup of electric vehicle batteries as we unravel the elements that power these green machines. From the core components of electric batteries to the intricate design of the EV battery pack, discover the minerals that make EVs tick and the future of this booming industry.

What are Batteries Made of?

At the heart of every electric car lies its battery. But what exactly are these EV batteries made of? The answer lies in the elements of the battery. Primarily, batteries for electric cars use lithium as a core component. This element, known for its high energy density and lightweight properties, has become the gold standard in the EV industry. But that’s not all that goes into an EV battery. 

Lithium isn't the sole player in the battery game. Inside a battery, there are a cocktail of elements, each playing a pivotal role. Apart from lithium, other metals like nickel, cobalt, and manganese often find their way into the battery's chemistry. These battery elements, in various combinations, determine the battery's performance, longevity, and safety. Read on as we take a look at the key minerals in an EV battery.

Learn how to invest in lithium and read our guide on investing in battery metals and stocks.

What are the Key Minerals in an EV Battery?

The key minerals in an EV battery are as follows according to this source:

  • Graphite - Used in the anode, it constitutes 52kg or 28.1% of the total mineral weight in the average 2020 battery. Graphite serves as the primary material for anodes due to its cost-effectiveness, abundance, and long cycle life.

  • Aluminum - Found in the cathode, casing, and current collectors, it makes up 35kg or 18.9% of the total.

  • Nickel - A component of the cathode, it weighs 29kg, accounting for 15.7% of the total. Nickel increases the energy density of the battery, enhancing the driving range of the EV.

  • Copper - Used in the current collectors, it constitutes 20kg or 10.8% of the total.

  • Steel - Used for the casing, it also weighs 20kg, making up 10.8% of the total, and protects the cell from external damage.

  • Manganese - Present in the cathode, it weighs 10kg, accounting for 5.4% of the total. Manganese acts as a stabilizer in certain battery types.

  • Cobalt - Another component of the cathode, it weighs 8kg, making up 4.3% of the total. Cobalt serves as a stabilizer in specific battery chemistries.

  • Lithium - Found in the cathode, it constitutes 6kg or 3.2% of the total.

  • Iron - Also present in the cathode, it weighs 5kg, accounting for 2.7% of the total.

The cathode, being a crucial and often the most expensive component of the battery, contains the most diverse range of minerals. Its composition significantly influences the battery's performance, with each mineral providing distinct advantages.

For instance, NMC batteries, which were predominant in 2020 EVs, have a cathode made up of nickel, manganese, cobalt, and lithium. Materials in the cathode represent 31.3% of the mineral weight in the average 2020 battery, excluding aluminum, which is also used in other parts of the battery.

The Structure of an EV Battery Pack

When considering "inside EV," it's not just about the vehicle's interior but also the intricate design of the EV battery pack. This pack consists of multiple individual cells grouped together. Each cell houses the essential components: the anode, cathode, electrolyte, and separator. The orchestration of these components allows for the efficient storage and release of energy, propelling the vehicle forward.

How Much Does a Tesla Battery Weigh?

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), the undeniable leader of the EV market, has made significant strides in battery technology. A common query is about the weight of a Tesla battery. 

Tesla's electric vehicles are renowned for their long-lasting batteries. The weight of these batteries varies based on the car model. For instance, the Roadster's battery originally weighed around 900 lbs, the Model 3 Standard Range is around 1054 lbs, the Model Y weighs around 1700 lbs, while the Model S and Model X weigh around 1200 lbs.

On average, a Tesla battery weighs around 1,000 pounds. Notably, the upcoming Roadster version aims to have a 200 kWh battery pack weighing 2,000 lbs. 

The battery weight, while substantial, is meticulously distributed to ensure optimal vehicle performance and balance.

Batteries For Electric Cars Sector Overview

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Trends in Batteries report, the demand for automotive lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries increased by about 65% to 550 GWh in 2022 from about 330 GWh in 2021, primarily because of growth in electric passenger car sales, with new registrations increasing by 55% in 2022 relative to 2021.

In China, 2022 saw electric car sales surge by 80% compared to 2021, and vehicle battery demand jumped by over 70%. This growth in battery demand faced a slight reduction due to a rising preference for PHEVs. Meanwhile, the United States experienced an 80% growth in vehicle battery demand in 2022, even though electric car sales rose by just 55%. 

While the average battery size for battery electric cars in the United States only grew by about 7% in 2022, the average battery electric car battery size remains about 40% higher than the global average, due in part to the higher share of SUVs in US electric car sales relative to other major markets, as well as manufacturers’ strategies to offer longer all-electric driving ranges. 

The IEA report also states that global sales of BEV and PHEV cars are outpacing sales of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), and as BEV and PHEV battery sizes are larger, battery demand further increases as a result. The increase in battery demand drives the demand for critical materials. 

Recent Demand for EV Battery Materials

In 2022, lithium demand exceeded supply (as in 2021) despite the 180% increase in production since 2017. In 2022, about 60% of lithium, 30% of cobalt, and 10% of nickel demand was for EV batteries. Just five years earlier, in 2017, these shares were around 15%, 10%, and 2%, respectively.

As has already been seen for lithium, mining and processing of these critical minerals will need to increase rapidly to support the energy transition, not only for EVs but more broadly to keep up with the pace of demand for clean energy technologies. 

The global market of advanced NiMH/lithium-ion batteries recorded 26.4 million units in H1-2023, posting a CAGR of over 15.4% during 2018-2023.

According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the global EV battery market will rise from $50.25 billion in 2023 to $144.48 billion by 2028, with a 23.52% CAGR during 2023-2028.

Meanwhile, the Electric Vehicle Outlook 2023 from BloombergNEF provides a comprehensive analysis of the future of road transport, considering factors like electrification, shared mobility, and autonomous driving. The report looks at scenarios for how these trends will impact the automotive, oil, electricity, infrastructure, and battery materials markets, as well as CO2 emissions.

EV sales have seen a significant surge due to policy support, advancements in battery technology, increased charging infrastructure, and new models from automakers. While China remains a dominant player in the global EV market, other regions are rapidly catching up.

The infrastructure for charging is expanding, with EVs currently displacing 1.5 million barrels of oil daily, which is about 3% of total road fuel demand. The report also highlights the increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries and the challenges in sourcing materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel.

A special focus is given to the potential path to achieving net-zero carbon emissions in road transport by 2050, with projections indicating 730 million passenger EVs on the road by 2040 under the Economic Transition Scenario.

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Author: Kirsteen Mackay

This article does not provide any financial advice and is not a recommendation to deal in any securities or product. Investments may fall in value and an investor may lose some or all of their investment. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance.

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