Sustainable nickel supply becoming ‘serious issue’ for EV market

IDTechEx says EV powertrains are putting ‘sudden and unprecedented strain on several raw materials industries’

Nickel is increasingly replacing cobalt in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, making the environmentally-conscious supply of the metal a “serious issue” for the market.

That’s the warning from IDTechEx, which says EV powertrains are putting “sudden and unprecedented strain on several raw materials industries” as they make up an increasing share of the world’s vehicles.

One of the environmental issues brought about by nickel mining is the fact that the metal is typically mined from ores that contain only a very small amount of useful material, resulting in a significant volume of waste material

IDTechEx highlights a trend towards increasing amounts of high-nickel content cathodes in EV batteries – nickel is an essential part of the cathode in lithium-ion batteries and allows a balance of energy and power density.

BMW, Hyundai and Renault use variants of the Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC) chemistry, while Tesla uses a Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide (NCA) chemistry – in 2019, more than 95% of new passenger EVs sold used batteries of these types.

The study notes demand for the metal is being driven by increasing nickel content in battery cells, as manufacturers switch to new chemistries to improve energy density and reduce cobalt dependence.

IDTechEx states: “As the electric vehicle market grows with the trend towards higher Nickel chemistries, IDTechEx expects the demand for nickel from electric vehicle batteries to increase ten-fold by 2030 compared to 2019.”

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