There’s no doubt about it. Electric Vehicles are in high demand. According to the IEA Global Electric Vehicle Outlook, sales of new electric cars reached one million units in 2017, a 54% increase when compared to the previous year. These projections shoot further for 2030 with sales of EVs predicted to reach 228 million units by the end of the decade.
As a knock-on effect, the global electric vehicle battery manufacturing market was valued at about $26.96 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to $55.4 billion at an annual growth rate of more than 19.5% through to 2022.
What could be better you may ask? Well, whilst this is exactly the news, we – and all those associated with Formula E – always dreamed of, things are not always as they seem…
Be it EVs, laptops or mobile phones, all these products require one key element; a battery. And not just any battery, a lithium-ion battery. Lithium forms a small but irreplaceable component of rechargeable batteries, meaning demand for this soft, silvery-white metal has soared in recent years, with global output rising three-fold since 2005 to 85,000 tonnes in 2018. Indeed, even the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 rewarded the development of the lithium-ion battery.
And this is where Chile come in. Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of lithium after Australia, with an output of 16,000 tonnes last year, all from the Atacama Desert with just two companies mining it. Valued at $949m (£785m), this was a 38% rise on 2017 and growing steadily.
For those that don’t remember their chemistry lessons, Lithium is found in brine, or pools of salty water. To extract this, the miners pump this brine to the surface, and allow it to evaporate in the sun, leaving the lithium carbonate to be scooped up. This salt can then be turned into metallic lithium.
But this extraction process requires fresh water; a lot of water. It takes approximately 500,000 gallons of water to produce every tonne of lithium. That’s a huge amount in one of the driest places on the planet and putting huge strains on Chile’s natural resources and nearby communities.
So, what’s the outlook? Well, for one thing, it’s clear there needs to be a balance between the need to replace fossil fuels and the environmental impact of finding the raw materials to support a battery future.
But, as we move towards mass EV adoption, the demand for lithium batteries is only going to increase. The solution then is in the longer-term use of the batteries themselves, or to put it plainly, their efficiency and life-span. And that’s where Formula E comes back into the picture. Batteries that are more energy dense and longer lasting produce a longer carbon footprint once you factor in its full life cycle from raw materials to final end point.
Indeed, Envision AESC Group Ltd, founded in 2007 and headquartered in Japan, is doing exactly this. The leading intelligent lithium-ion battery company is working to introduce IoT-enabled storage devices to establish the data management covering battery‘s full life cycle. By means of comprehensive monitoring and analysis of battery status, Envision AESC can identify the status of battery life and simplify the process of selection and assessment of suitable batteries for repurposing. Besides, with the help of end-of -life data management, Envision AESC can reduce the costs of collecting, handling and disassembling the batteries that enter the recycling process, which prevents losses of valuable materials such as lithium.
In short, IoT-enabled batteries can help in cost savings and efficiency through accurate monitoring and forecasting of energy consumption, and the key element that will help transform the future of the market.
These breakthroughs – essentially getting more from the same resource – is what will tip the balance in favour of mass lithium-ion battery use on our modern world and, of course, will mean Chile remains the one powering the new battery revolution.