How Are Batteries Made For Electric Cars

by Frano Covic

When it comes to searching the internet for up-to-date facts and figures about how EV batteries are made, you will find a lot of misinformation out there.

Blame this on the landslide of articles put out by those with vested interests in keeping the population hooked on fossil fuel consumption.

But nothing can take away from the fact that the future is here, and it’s all about electric cars and solar power.

The EV Age is upon us

Most countries in the developed world plan on phasing out petrol and diesel vehicle production within the next ten years. As Elon Musk was already saying nearly twenty years ago when the first Teslas were in production, cars of the future will run on battery power and these same batteries will be charged using power generated from the sun.

It might have sounded like science fiction then, but that transport solution system is within grasp.

Super techical vs. super simple

Learning about the heart of every EV - the battery - doesn’t have to be difficult. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of lithium-ion battery production.

  • Lithium-ion batteries are the most common battery type and are used in the majority of EVs.
  • Lithium-ion batteries contain carbon and graphite elements, as well as lithium salt and metal oxides.
  • The elements are made up of positive (+) and negative (-) electrodes.
  • When the electrodes are combined with an electrolyte, it produces an electrical current.
  • It is this electrical current that makes the EV battery work.
  • The electrically powered battery makes the wheels turn as it powers the vehicle, propelling the vehicle forward.

EV batteries are the same batteries found in everyday devices such as cell phones and laptop computers, except bigger. So, when you charge your phone or laptop, you are doing exactly the same thing that you do when you charge your EV, but on a far larger scale!

Some EV battery facts

  • EV batteries are made from materials and components 80% of which are recyclable.
  • When the battery comes to the end of its lifecycle, it can be stripped down to its separate components and then the raw materials can be reused.
  • Some EV manufacturers host their own battery making plant and some source their batteries from outside.
  • Battery production and recycling can be done in countries offering the best possible conditions for their workers.
  • Many countries are prioritising the construction of facilities that manufacture EV battery cells.

The electrification of personal and public mobility

Even the most ardent proponents of the electrification of personal and public mobility could not have dreamed how fast the change over to EVs would happen.

The general consensus of the population is favourable towards the government accelerating the change. Half of all global private passenger-vehicle related sales will be EVs by 2035. That means 50% of all international new car sales will be electrical cars, and the rest will be for hybrids, petrol, and diesel combustion engines.

Expect the other 50% of car sales to be based on the following factors:

  • Used internal combustion car sales in underdeveloped countries will flourish as these vehicles’ prices fall dramatically.
  • Fossil fuel internal combustion car engines will still have to be produced for underdeveloped countries where the majority of the population cannot afford new or used EVs and/or electricity to power the engine.
  • Underdeveloped countries with poor power service delivery and transport will still have to rely on petrol, diesel, and hybrid powered vehicles.

Until the above problems have been addressed, we will never be looking at a completely fossil fuel free future, which might be a good thing, because it will give scientists time to solve the problem the EV industry is currently facing.

How will the materials for EV batteries be sourced?

The first step to solving the EV battery materials sourcing problem is to cut down on the amount of materials used to manufacture the battery itself.

Some of the battery materials are:

  • Scarce and/or rare
  • Expensive
  • Very problematic due to the mining of the materials carrying a harsh environmental, social, and renewable cost.

One solution offered to improve the cost of batteries is too recycle the components more efficiently. Already, manufacturers are able to reduce battery production costs with stricter recycling. Governments are incentivising the change to cheaper batteries by regulating the materials.

The goal is to make recycled battery materials the same price or cheaper than mined materials, so battery manufacturers won’t have a choice but to use recycled.

This is why the price of lithium-ion cells used in EVs has fallen by 97% + over the last thirty years.

Win-win, not win-lose

More modern techniques are being used in lithium mining and lithium extraction. This helps offset the destructive environmental toll when it comes to mining lithium. Additionally, lithium-ion production will help replace the extraction of fossil fuels and fossil fuel being released into the atmosphere.

The most expensive material used in EV batteries is cobalt. Cobalt is a toxic heavy metal. The areas where cobalt is mainly mined are in underdeveloped countries with no health and safety infrastructures. Human-rights activists are working to improve conditions for the workers in those countries.

Another component found in EV batteries is nickel, which is a metal that is subject to fluctuations and shortages. These concerns must be addressed before larger scale EV battery production can continue on a global scale.

Scientists are working on creating a battery that does not use precious metals and materials. When cobalt-free and nickel-free batteries are used in EVs, the price of electric cars will fall dramatically.

With expensive or rare metal replacement and recycling in place, the changeover to electrically powered vehicles is likely to spread to underdeveloped countries and economically challenged households. That is definitely a win-win situation for EVs!