While scientists rush to develop a successor to lithium-ion batteries, the market is doing its own innovation and supporting the cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate battery.
“Many manufacturers have started switching from lithium-ion batteries to lithium phosphate because phosphate is easier to obtain,” he said Meghan Nutting, executive vice president of government and regulatory affairs at Sunnova, a Houston-based developer of residential solar panels.
Speaking at the Baker Institute’s annual energy summit in Houston last week, Nutting answered a question about gaps in the renewables supply chain.
“In the case of solar panels, it’s largely terrestrial minerals.” We need aluminum, glass, silicon, some copper. For the most part, it’s quite abundant.”
When it comes to the batteries that make solar power more expeditionary, there has been a shift to ingredients that are cheaper and easier to find, she said.
Components for lithium iron phosphate are more readily available than cobalt, a vital component of the cathode in most lithium-ion batteries, traditionally mined primarily in the Congo. The price of cobalt, which stood at $32,000 per ton at the end of 2017, rose to $82,000 last spring. It has since dropped to $55,000. Manufacturers responded to the price and volatility by seeking alternative chemicals.
“Cobalt-free batteries, such as LFP (lithium-iron-phosphate) batteries, also offer a less mineral version of the lithium-ion configuration and are often less expensive than their (nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide) counterparts,” according to a message released last month by the Atlantic Council, “albeit at the cost of reduced energy density and thus storage capacity issues such as EV range.”
Despite these drawbacks, lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries are growing rapidly in the battery market. In August messageUBS predicts that LFP will control 40 percent of the battery market by 2030. As the Atlantic Council points out, this is a 25 percent increase from UBS’s previous forecast and a jump from LFP’s 17 percent market share in 2020.
But cheaper batteries can also be more difficult to recycle: