Electric Cars, What Are They Up To?

By: Faye Bautista

By all measures, China current leads the world in electric vehicles. By 2020, China is aiming to have 5 million Electric Vehicles (EV) on its roads, up from 1 million today. To do this, China including other countries and their western counterparts who are at the forefront of EV will need big batteries to support their EV strategy. However, the battery producers are still not quite ready yet with some major challenges ahead. 

The Battery Manufacturers
Western battery manufacturers today are more focused on quality of batteries not only its length of life. When it comes to quality, Panasonic, LG Chem and Samsung SDI are still leading the race.  

BYD and Tesla produces both EV and batteries. In 2017, Tesla installed the world's largest litjium ion battery in South Australia. It aims to help smooth out renewable power supplies. 

The Main Challenge of EV Vehicles
The first major challenge about EV is solving the battery storage technology to make it cost efficient. The current battery storage technology cost far more expensive to cover especially during extended periods when there is insuufient sun light. A battery pack with a 500km range cost about $15,000 as compared with a $5,000 for a petrol engine. The good news is, battery cost are falling fast. 

The second major challenge that faces battery producers is the availability of raw materials available in making batteries. Most lithium-ion batteries requires cobalt and graphite to do the job of retaining and discharging electricity. While lithium and graphite are plentiful, cobalt is what worries the manufacturers. 

Cobalt is a rare metal that has tripled in price over the past year to over $80,000 a ton today. To make matter worse, 60% of cobalt global supply comes from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo where chinese companies have an edge. It exports 50% of its raw materials and minerals to China.

Will 2040 be the End of Petrol Engines?
While the transition between petrol driven cars and battery vehicles is expected to take decades, several governments have set timelines for vehicles without electric power to be phase out. The UK and France will ban sale of non electric vehicles by 2040, China wants a fifth of its new cars to be electric vehicles by 2025. Rolls-Royce announced that by 2040, it will only produce electric vehicles and pledges to ditch its 12 cylinder petrol engines.

The success of this vision really depends on whether battery manufacturers is able to either find new supplies of cobalt quickly or another metal that can replace cobalt in battery. Otherwise, oil may still be the way to go.

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