Notes from reading a recent backgrounder piece in Ars about batteries and the grid

This piece in Arstechnica about changes in the costs of batteries, and how it affects the interplay between electricity grids and electric vehicles is a pretty accessible, but it also goes into suprising amounts of detail about what Lithium batteries are made of.

It also includes a few eye-opening charts, like this one showing how the price of battery storage has fallen in the last ten years:

chart showing the price fall in batter storage

There were a few things I learned in particular that I figured were worth sharing:

Lithium ion is a umbrella term

I didn't know before reading this that Lithium Ion was a sort of umbrella term for different kinds of batteries - the term can cover a number of different kinds of batteries - it's not just one kind of battery, like a lead-acid battery you might find in a car.

It can refer to a number of different kinds of chemistry, and some of these challenge an earlier assumptions I had that batteries were largely made of materials that only came from a few places in the world - often where conflict minerals are mined.

Reducing dependencies on conflict minerals

I also didn't know that there was so much work going on to find ways to make batteries from materials where the companies making cars or electronics have a greater idea of what's going on in the supply chain.

This snippet here was pretty eye-opening for me, on work GM has been doing to source materials domestically to address these issues:

GM is working on new battery chemistries as well, as Ars Technica's Jonathan Gitlin reported back in March. GM expects its forthcoming Ultium platform, slated to appear in GM vehicles in 2023, to bring the cost of a battery cell down to $100 per kWh. Pack prices are typically 20 to 40 percent higher than cell prices, so if these reports are accurate it would still put GM behind Tesla in the race for cheaper batteries.

"The cells, developed with LG Chem, use an NMCA chemistry, which uses a combination of nickel, manganese, cobalt, and aluminum for the cathode," Gitlin wrote. "GM says it has reduced the use of cobalt by 70 percent compared to the cells in a Chevrolet Bolt EV and that it plans to source as many of the raw materials from North America as possible."

Further reading

Previously, I've found the "Metals Supply in Energy Transition" episode on the Energy Transition Show podcast with Morgan Bazillian really useful for understanding the issues around how we source the minerals we might rely on as we move away from fossil fuels.

It really helped me get my head around how informal and small, the markets are, even now, compared to markets for more commonly traded commodities like oil, or coffee.

Also, when reading up on last year, I found this report from Germanwatch Governance of Mineral Supply Chains of Electronic Devices, useful for getting a good grounding on the subject, and how complex the subject is.

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