There have been many suggestions recently concerning just how environmentally questionable electric vehicle batteries are. In the interest of balance, I felt it was necessary to give a response from a more neutral position. Having worked in the electric vehicle industry for 8+ years, I have a certain expertise, and I can’t dispute that the majority of EV batteries today have cobalt and nickel in them, sourced from Russia, Ukraine, and the Congo. These batteries will be old hats soon.

Where your well off boss might be driving a posh EV with nickel and cobalt in it, you probably won’t, and neither will the electric vans and HGVs delivering your food to Tesco or your gizmos from Amazon. You, the truck and van driver, will likely be driving vehicles with the LFP (lithium ferro-phosphate) chemistry, which is far more environmentally acceptable.

Let’s not ignore the facts – NMC batteries are ugly

Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) batteries are the most energy dense lithium batteries on the market today. The reason they use cobalt in them is to prevent a condition called ‘thermal runaway’, which could mean you burn your private parts when your iPhone explodes in your pocket.

In 2022 The Drive reported that EVs for the first time, had eclipsed mobile devices in the demand for cobalt. It said that in 2021, EV manufacturers used 65,036 tonnes of cobalt, while mobile devices like the laptop I’m writing this on, used 28,660t.

Ok, so I’ll not take a swipe beyond saying that anyone using a mobile device yet who criticises EVs is a bloody hypocrite. There are 7 billion mobile devices in the world, nearly all with up to 30% cobalt in each battery—you’ve been harming kids in Congo for far longer than your posh green friend with them driving their EV!

The Move Away from NMC

According to the International Energy Agency, NMC batteries will account for 60% of the market in 2022. They have their weaknesses, not least due to thermal runaway limiting how fast you can charge them and their fragility – you can only charge them to 100% on rare occasions without degrading them very quickly.

The IEA also reported that lithium ferro-phosphate (LFP) batteries accounted for 15% of market share. Broadly:

– LFP batteries are safer to charge more quickly without exploding

– They can be charged to 100% quickly and repeatedly without degrading

– With phosphorus and iron but no cobalt or nickel, they are more readily made without importing from dodgy countries

LFP is less energy dense at a cell level than NMC, but a recent article in suggests that at pack level they are likely to compete with NMC soon. Essentially, because they are less likely to suffer thermal runaway, they don’t need the pack architecture of NMC batteries for safety. This means by the time they go in your car or truck, they can be packed tightly enough to compete with NMC – up to 250Wh/kg where the best NMC batteries are 260Wh/kg. Technology is moving forward at a frightening pace – just 5 years ago, the best LFP could get was 150Wh/kg!

So, though less energy dense, LFP is increasingly seen as the better way forward for EVs. Additionally:

– They are far cheaper to make than NMC, bringing down the cost of EVs in the near future

– Protectionist policies in the US one EU are making NMC more expensive, and making LFP a better bet for car/truck manufacturers

LFP could well clean up the EV industry

In my role as an analyst for a leading logistics consultancy, I don’t see any battery electric HGV coming on the market with NMC batteries. I spend my professional life looking at these things! They almost always have LFP for cost reasons and the ability to whack in a massive charge very quickly without burning your Tesco sandwiches at an M5 service station.

At a consumer EV level, most people aren’t going to drive to Edinburgh from Weymouth without stopping. Most drives in the UK are well under 30 miles, and you just don’t need to have a very energy dense battery for a car. Even Tesla are increasingly putting LFP batteries in their cars, and I’ll admit that’s because Elon Musk doesn’t like cobalt much, as it’s not good PR for his company. This is why, in the next 5–10 years, we’re likely to see the end of ‘blood batteries’ in EVs, except for the posh cars that make Jeremy Clarkson overexcited. If you want a Ferrari, you’re not going to care much about the environment anyway.

In my next DE submission, I’ll consider the pressures of consumer demand against the climate. For now, I hope you’ll agree that yes, EVs aren’t all clean but the industry is moving away from the nastier stuff.

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