One of the most significant inventions to emerge in previous centuries was battery energy storage and, in this century, rechargeable Li-ion batteries have revolutionised many aspects of life as we know it. They have broad application in everything from hand-held electronic devices and tools through all types of electric vehicles (EVs) to industrial- and domestic-scale stationary systems used to store energy from renewable sources of power.
Generally speaking, a Li-ion battery consists of four main components: cathode (positive electrode), anode (negative electrode), electrolyte and separator. During discharge the anode releases lithium ions to the cathode through the electrolyte and separator and an electric current is generated.
Types of Li-ion batteries
There are various types of Li-ion batteries, incorporating a range of cathode chemistries. Each combination has specific properties and hence specific applications. Indeed, the cathode to a large extent determines the unique properties of each type of battery.
Most of the metals within a Li-ion battery are consumed in the manufacture of its cathode, so efficient, high-performance cathode materials are vital for environmental health and sustainability as resources dwindle worldwide.
Generally, a Li-ion battery cathode takes the form of mixed metal oxides, including lithium, or mixed metal phosphates. The anode usually consists of graphite manufactured to a stringent particle size, shape and porosity standards.
The most common Li-ion battery cathode chemistries are as follows.
- LMFP – lithium-manganese-ferro-phosphate.
- LFP – lithium-ferro-phosphate.
- LMO – lithium-manganese oxide.
- NCA – lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide.
- NMC – lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide.
- LCO – lithium-cobalt oxide.
As a rule, Li-ion batteries containing nickel and cobalt – the latter an often problematic global resource in terms of provenance and supply – store more energy per unit of mass, meaning that NCA/NMC chemistries have until quite recently been deemed more suitable for use in long-range passenger EVs. However, that is changing rapidly.
LFP-type Li-ion batteries certainly outperform their nickel-based counterparts in terms of cost and safety (ie greater chemical and thermal stability). They are also considered more sustainable in terms of resource utilisation, using 20% less lithium per kilowatt hour (kWh) of storage capacity, and have the longest lifecycle in comparison to other batteries based on lithium chemistry.
Although capable of very high current delivery, LFP batteries do, however, have a lower specific energy density and, as a result, have generally been considered most suitable for hybrid EVs, electric buses, battery-energy-storage systems for renewable power and other applications where longevity is more important than volume and mass. Now, however, makers of LFP battery cells are achieving energy densities above 200 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg), thereby closing the energy-density gap between LFP and nickel-based Li-ion battery chemistries (250 Wh/kg).
LMFP battery cells share all the benefits of LFP cells but, significantly, deliver an energy density of up to 25% more.
As the global shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power accelerates, the drive for efficient storage of that renewable power has put Li-ion batteries – in particular, LMFP and LFP battery chemistries – to the fore.
VSPC’s scaleable, flexible processes are being used to create new generations of battery materials, to meet the greater performance requirements of end-users globally.
Demand for Li-ion batteries
* Roskill are forecasting a four-fold increase in cathode material demand in the next five years and, importantly, LFP will retain a one-third share of the total cathode material market. VSPC is positioning itself to supply part of that forecast growth, as both a cathode material producer and provider of process technologies. (NB: 1 GWh is the equivalent of generating – or consuming – one billion watts for 1 hour.)
S&P Global Market Intelligence expects Li-ion battery production capacity to increase from 455 GWh i(2020) to 1,447 GWh vy 2025, with China and Europe the largest contributors to such capacity increases, and with these regions also becoming the biggest drivers of global passenger EV sales.
Other independent forecasts conservatively project that demand for cathode materials for Li-ion batteries will exceed US$10 billion by 2025, and also that LFP is likely to become the dominant Li-ion battery chemistry within a few years, due to its greater safety and environmental and social governance (ESG) values, as well as its more positive cost structure.In fact, some forecast that demand for LFP cathode material will grow fivefold by 2030, as new applications for LFP and LMFP continue to emerge as a replacement for lead-acid batteries and in new types of EV platforms.
VSPC owns some of the most advanced technology currently available for the production of advanced LFP and LFMP battery materials.