Who builds batteries for electric cars? EV battery manufacturers explained
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There are a number of manufacturers around the world who supply the batteries used in Electric Vehicles (EVs). In 2022, the top five manufacturers control more than 80 per cent of the battery market.
With an increased interest in EVs - global sales of electric cars topped an estimated 7.3 million units in 2021, a 56.5 per cent increase since 2021 - there’s been concern that a long list of car companies may soon face an EV battery shortage from electric car battery manufacturers.
If you want to know what are electric car batteries made of, the answer is several different components, but mainly lithium, due to the popularity of using lithium-ion batteries in EVs.
A lithium shortage is predicted post-2025, and global demand for the metal is expected to double to 117 kilotonnes by 2024, driven by demand from battery companies for electric cars.
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If you’re wondering how are electric car batteries made, the process for lithium-ion batteries starts, at its most basic level, with mining for lithium (and Australia produces more of it than any other country on Earth).
The lithium then goes through a chemical conversion process to produce lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, which is then combined with materials to form a cathode and an anode, together forming an individual battery cell. The battery pack in an EV can contain thousands of these cells.
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Car manufacturers have traditionally built their own batteries for internal-combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, but now they are being forced to turn to Asian electronics and chemical firms which control the EV battery market.
In terms of the companies that make batteries for electric cars, there are currently three EV battery manufacturers who are the major players on the global stage.
Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL)
CATL operates out of China, which is now the biggest international market for EVs (over 4 million EVs were sold in China in 2022, an increase of 87 per cent compared to 2021), with Europe, formerly the biggest market, now coming in second (1.56 million EVs sold in 2022, an increase of 29 per cent from 2021).
If you’ve ever wondered “Who makes Tesla batteries?”, the answer is chiefly Panasonic, although CATL is a key Tesla car battery manufacturer, due to the fact the two companies have agreed to produce lithium-ion batteries together at Tesla’s second “battery megafactory” at Giga Shanghai.
Batteries that last longer and can deal with more wear and tear are the golden goose in the EV battery manufacturing game, and CATL may very well maintain its number one position for years to come now that it has unveiled an EV battery it claims has a range of over 1000 kilometres from a single charge.
LG Energy Solution
A unit of LG Chem, this South Korean battery supplier is neck and neck with CATL as the world’s number one supplier of lithium-ion EV batteries.
Although there has been some controversy along the way - LG Chem successfully sued rivals SK Innovations not too long ago for stealing trade secrets - the future looks bright for the company, with LG Energy Solution beginning production of 4680 cells in 2023, the very same cells which make up Tesla’s most advanced battery pack yet.
The large format 4680 cylindrical cells are said to increases power by six times and energy by five times, as well as boost an EV’s range by up to 54 per cent.
These 4680 cells are also expected to bring the price of Tesla EVs down to around $US25,000, according to Tesla founder Elon Musk.
The company also has a US$303 million plant in Holland, Michigan, capable of producing enough cells per year to build between 50,000 and 200,000 battery packs for EV and hybrid manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Volvo, Renault and Chevrolet.
By 2025, all factories in South Korea, North America, Europe and China will operate on 100 per cent renewable energy.
Once written off by Elon Musk, China’s BYD has proven the haters wrong by becoming the world’s top seller of EVs in July 2022, having sold 641,000 vehicles in the first half of 2022 - nearly 80,000 more EVs than Tesla.
Although it’s gained a strong footing in the EV market, BYD began life as a rechargeable-battery manufacturer in 1995, and in 2021 it built a new facility in Chongqing, China, for producing its blade batteries, which are thinner and longer than conventional lithium-ion cells.
Blade batteries are also considered to be the safest EV batteries, because they are far less likely to catch fire in an accident. They are also 50 per cent smaller than other battery blocks, resulting in lighter and more efficient EVs.
There seems to be no hard feelings between the Chinese behemoth and Elon Musk: BYD executive vice president Lian Yubo now says BYD is “good friends” with Mr Tesla, and has plans afoot to supply his company with EV batteries.
Panasonic is another of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery manufacturers, the electronics giant partnering with Tesla on Giga Nevada - or Gigafactory 1, as it’s also known - a $5 billion lithium-ion battery and electric vehicle component factory located in Storey County, Nevada, which produces a Panasonic EV battery exclusively for Tesla’s Model 3, Model S and Model X SUV.
Panasonic is said to have invested US$1.6 billion in Gigafactory 1 to make itself Tesla’s prime supplier of EV batteries, with raw materials being supplied by a mining company which extracts lithium from a site located 320km away from the factory.
Jointly designed and engineered by Tesla and Panasonic, the ‘2170’ battery has been in mass production since January, 2017, with the new and improved 4680 battery cell, which has significant capacity improvements, going into production in 2023.
Turning an eye to the future, Shoichiro Watanabe, CTO of Panasonic Energy, says the company will achieve a 20 per cent improvement in energy density in its battery cells by the end of the decade.
In much the same way that Tesla has partnered with other EV battery manufacturers in other international markets, Panasonic has also partnered with Toyota to build a lithium-ion battery plant in Japan that will supply batteries for Toyota EVs.
SK Innovation is another South Korean industrial giant with interests in petrochemicals, lubricants, and refineries, As of early 2023 it was also the world's fifth biggest battery manufacturer through its SK On division, and the primary competitor on the Korean peninsula to LG Energy Solution.
It has grown steadily over the last few years, overtaking fellow Korean brand, Samsung SDI in early 2020, and as of mid-2022 had roughly a 6.5 per cent market share of the global battery landscape.
SK Innovation batteries are bought by BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Kia and Hyundai, and the company has manufacturing plans around the world including four in Poland, and an upcoming American joint-venture plant with Ford in Georgia. Aside from its unique nickel-rich lithium battery chemistry, SK On also has ambitions to provide batteries for heavy vehicles and low cost vehicles. To that end, the South Korean giant has a new LFP battery in the works by 2025, and even says a solid-state cell is due around the same time.
As the power of Panasonic slips, SK Innovation will be looking to overtake in the coming years.