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 2020, the top five manufacturers controlled a huge 77.3 per cent of the market.
With an increased interest in EVs - global sales of electric cars almost doubled in 2020 - 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.
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.
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 who 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.
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Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL)
CATL operates out of China, which is the second biggest international market for EVs (the 1.3 million EVs sold in China in 2020 represented 41 per cent of global EV sales), only just behind Europe (42 per cent of the global EV market).
The reason why CATL takes out the top spot is likely due to the fact that it has the biggest number of relationships with car manufacturers, including EV giant Tesla, BMW, Great Wall, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen.
If you’ve ever wondered “Who makes Tesla batteries?”, the answer is chiefly Panasonic, although CATL are 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 once it rolls out a new “million mile” battery soon, which should cost less than $US100 in terms of kWh and can handle decades of heavy use.
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 recently for stealing trade secrets - the future looks bright for the company, with LG Energy Solution in talks to undertake production of 4680 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 16 per cent.
These 4680 cells are also expected to bring the price of Tesla EVs down to around $25,000, 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 Motor, Hyundai, Volvo, Renault and Chevrolet.
Panasonic is another of the word’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, that 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 themselves Tesla’s prime supplier of EV batteries, with raw materials being supplied by a mining company who extract 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, at what is currently the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory.
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 begin production in 2022 and supply approximately 500,000 batteries for Toyota EVs.