Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:24

Will Lithium-ion battery costs rise, or fall – and what is the future of batteries?

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New research looks at the cost and demand for lithium-ion batteries over the next 10 years to predict the intricacies of what should be a booming market.

The research gurus at IDTechEx have issued a new report entitled "Lithium-ion batteries 2016-2026", on sale to relevant parties at relevant prices. 

The report has forecasts by application, technology & company analysis, with 400+ cell manufacturers compared: chemistry, construction and achievement.

It also "drills down on thin and flexible batteriespost-lithium batterieselectric vehicles land, water and air and so on".

The report was co-authored by several people, with Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx, responsible for all the text I’ve lightly retouched below.

Dr Harrop says that "stellar growth over the coming decade is forecasted by analysts IDTechEx for the electric vehicle business resulting in nearly one trillion dollars sales at ex-factory prices in 2026".

Indeed, "about half of that will probably be the 48V mild hybrids first launching in 2017 when they will not be electric vehicles i.e. propelled by electric motors some or all of the time".

By 2026, however, IDTechEx says "they will be electric vehicles, with up to four pure electric modes. If pure electric cars have a lift-off mimicking that of smart phones then the trillion dollars will be achieved with fewer hybrids".

Even so, if that consumer demand suddenly appears, we are told that "there may be insufficient gigafactories to produce all those large batteries".

Looking closer, IDTechEx says that it "sees the current surge in strong hybrids continuing for several years, mostly focussed on plug in versions with quite long range thanks to substantial lithium-ion batteries being fitted. However, that market will not endure".

Dr Harrop continues, stating that "as pure electric vehicles replace them just as they are today in the bus market due to strongly biased government support in China sensibly addressing local pollution".

So, it is important to note that "predicting lithium-ion battery demand is therefore a complex business given that cars and buses will remain the largest part of it. It is not just disagreement about which powertrains win, some having a supercapacitor or NiMH traction battery instead of a lithium-ion one".

IDTechEx says that it is "also a matter of price reduction driven by cost reduction, this being complicated by the assumptions about whether the price of competing forms of energy storage will improve faster".

And so it should come as no surprise to see that, in 2017, "any pure electric car with less than 200 miles range, a doubling over 2016, will look jaded".

However, we are advised, "that doubling is coming from larger batteries being fitted within an affordable price and various other improvements such as more efficient powertrains and aerodynamics".

Looking specifically at the battery, IDTechEx says "progress is more sedate. The most common projection of lithium-ion traction battery cost by others has been a halving in 10 years which can also be taken as a doubling in range, this figure constraining sales of pure electric cars just as much as price".

"However, in late 2014, Elon Musk of Tesla said that he will be disappointed if $100/kWh could not be achieved within ten years with the economy of scale of his planned gigafactory."

The explanation continues, noting that "at the time, costs were around $450/kWh. The statement is deeply significant because it would make family cars cheaper up front than conventional versions probably causing a lift-off in sales".

IDTechEx "does predict a tipping point for mainstream electric car sales in about seven years because we see range tripled as a result of many advances but we do not yet support such a huge drop in cost per kWh".

Ultimately, says Dr Harrop, "One thing is certain".

"In electric vehicles and in lithium-ion batteries, everything is changing. Both are being totally reinvented in technology, competitive landscape, applications and more. This is a violent gold rush creating spectacular winners and losers."

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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