Power Electronics

What is Happening with Lithium-Ion Battery Costs?

Peter Harrop, an analyst at IDTechEx, reports that stellar growth over the coming decade is forecast for the electric vehicle business, resulting in nearly one trillion dollars sales at ex-factory prices in 2026. About half of that will probably be the 48V mild hybrids first launching in 2017 when they will not be electric vehicles i.e. propelled by electric motors some or all of the time. By 2026, however, they will be electric vehicles. Indeed, they will have up to four pure electric modes. If pure electric cars have a lift-off mimicking that of smart phones then the trillion dollars will be achieved with fewer hybrids. However, even if that consumer demand suddenly appears, there may be insufficient gigafactories to produce all those large batteries. Looking closer, IDTechEx sees the current surge in strong hybrids continuing for several years, mostly focused on plug in versions with quite long range thanks to substantial lithium-ion batteries being fitted. However, that market will not endure. As pure electric vehicles replace them just as they are today in the bus market due to strongly biased government support in China sensibly addressing local pollution.

Predicting lithium-ion battery demand is therefore a complex business given that cars and buses will remain the largest part of it. It is not just disagreement about which powertrains win, some having a supercapacitor or NiMH traction battery instead of a lithium-ion one. It is also a matter of price reduction driven by cost reduction, this being complicated by the assumptions about whether the price of competing forms of energy storage will improve faster.

In 2017, any pure electric car with less than 200 miles range, a doubling over 2016, will look jaded. However, that doubling is coming from larger batteries being fitted within an affordable price and various other improvements such as more efficient powertrains and aerodynamics. Looking specifically at the battery, progress is more sedate. The most common projection of lithium-ion traction battery cost by others has been a halving in ten years which can also be taken as a doubling in range, this figure constraining sales of pure electric cars just as much as price.

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