Battery Shortage Poses Major Innovative Threat To Electric Vehicle Push

from the bigger-better-bupkis dept

In most people’s heads, electric vehicles are going to very quickly supplant gas-powered vehicles in the next few years, resulting in massive disruption and a massive boost to climate change mitigation. But there’s trouble in paradise: experts continue to warn that we lack the elements and supply chain necessary to ramp up production of electric vehicles at the scale that exists in everybody’s imagination.

Oddly, this is usually some kind of weird footnote in EV discourse. But last week, Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe clearly pointed out that we’re facing a massive battery shortage (warning: paywall) as companies engage in a mad dash to lock down supplies of cobalt, lithium, battery-grade graphite, and nickel needed for batteries:

“All the world’s cell production combined represents well under 10% of what we will need in 10 years,” Scaringe noted. “Meaning, 90% to 95% of the supply chain does not exist.”

I imagine that as a smaller player, Scaringe is nervous about all the bigger players engaged in a mad dash to lock down already limited resources, and his call could be construed as a call for some government help. Though that doesn’t make his concerns any less true. The scale of the challenge is fairly massive:

Battery evolution will continue and engineering may lift some of this strain in time, but it’s pretty clear that the speedy EV timeline that exists in many people’s heads isn’t realistic. Such restrictions should also probably result in a re-assesment of what kind of vehicles get build priority, since you can build a dozen smaller vehicles with the components and minerals needed to build one Hummer EV:

This being America, the demand side of the equation isn’t likely to want to meaningfully integrate those considerations.

Granted this is occurring at the same time as folks are finally realizing the massive weight of some of these much larger EVs is going to pose a notable safety threat on the road to smaller vehicles, incentivizing Americans who already like big stuff to prioritize bigger EVs for family safety, therefore accelerating supply constraints.

Addressing that cycle will require more actual engineering innovation, and less… innovation performance art.

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Comments on “Battery Shortage Poses Major Innovative Threat To Electric Vehicle Push”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds scary.

Especially if you don’t bother considering, well, facts.

This issue has been well know to anyone bothering to keep track of developments in EVs for several years now. It is not a current problem, there is sufficient material supply for all current production, but that will not be the case in another year or two. That shortage, however, will be temporary and will only last another maybe two years. Miners, battery makers and a few car manufacturers are already working on solutions (more mines, more factories, different chemistries, higher energy densities resulting from those chemistries and different physical battery pack designs…). At the moment the biggest concerns are cobalt – for both ethical and quantity of supply concerns – and nickel. Lithium is a lesser but still looming concern.

Battery makers are capable of making very large numbers of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which have lower but sufficient (for some manufacturers) energy density. Tesla is already producing maybe half their vehicles with LiFePo cells, which use neither cadmium nor nickel. They also have a lower fire risk, suffer less degradation with use, can be charged faster and aren’t damaged by a 100% charge.

This is a known issue and will be solved well before the decade is over, so long as there are no serious “unknown unkowns” – also called “surprises”.

As a final note, PHEVs are really not part of the long-term solution. While better than ICEs, they are still a major source of atmospheric carbon during use. They are also wasteful as a concept, having to have two different power trains in one vehicle.

Koby (profile) says:

Cart Before

the massive weight of some of these much larger EVs is going to pose a notable safety threat on the road to smaller vehicles

Maybe a different problem needs to be solved first. If fully autonomous self driving vehicles were a thing, and they could operate at a safety level better than human drivers, then the safety threat from crashes might not be an issue if there are very few crashes to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:


While it is a nice conjecture, you’ve got a few too many requirements there for it to be likely.

Also, you do allude to the quality vs quantity problem: Would you prefer more survivable crashes, or fewer overall crashes? While they are related issues, they aren’t identical. But your ideal case (safe-driving fully autonomous vehicles) is already so complex, one can probably throw in “prioritizes survivability” greatly adding to the complexity.

OGquaker says:

ButWhatAbout thousands/year dying mining Nigerian oil?

American Potash/ Kerr McGee/ whomever has been pulling isotopes of Lithium out of Searles Dry Lake for a hundred years, my Father made a movie on the subject 80 years ago. The biggest lithium production in America is Smackover in Arkansas. Toyota gets their hybrid battire materials from mines near the California-Nevada border, & the San Bernardino Mountains have millions of tons of “rare-earths” but not cheap or blood labor. Why did WE give South Africa back to the Africans? Because we can get cheaper Uranium from Russia (France got their nuke fuel from Rwanda, than walked away) & cheaper gold from America’s old mine trailings than Rand can: using bacteria.
The price of nickel DOUBLED on the worldwide London Nickel Exchange within 24 hours last month.. say Capital-ism

I smell a flood of AstroTurf across the media as America’s fracked NG and Alberta tar turns to $$gold

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KSparx says:

Re: Re: Links

Since you apparently can’t type “Biden cobalt” in your search box, here ya go.

Need some more?

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:

So, Freeport-McMoRan sold off their majority stake in the mine to a Chinese firm in 2016 which means the mine was already controlled by China at that point. If there is anyone to blame here, it’s that mining company and its owner Phelps Dodge.

This has less to do with Biden and more to do with how American companies are almost always only looking at short-term profits.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

This triggers the mental driftnet to recall 2 stories I saw recently…

One was about how some people & dealers are using the battery level reset feature on EV’s they are selling to hide how much the battery is degraded because it takes like week for the car to display actual capacity.
(Humans they like to lie)

The other was about a startup who was working to breakdown old EV batteries into parts & bring them back to useful life as… batteries. I mean its not like we’ve been dumping old EV batteries in landfills…. er…
While the CEOs dream of creating a system where they just kept bringing battery minerals back to useful instead of mining the planet until its hollow seems a bit out there it is sort of depressing that after all this time there is finally 1 company looking at old batteries and thinking thats a waste I wonder if I could get more use out of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 1?

“it is sort of depressing that after all this time there is finally 1 company looking at old batteries and thinking thats a waste…”.

What world do you live on? There are at least 80 startups looking to recycly LiIon battery materials. Redwood Materials and Li-Cycle are probably the biggest names in the field, but there are many more actively working on the problem Today. Down the road Tesla is thinking about it too, though Tesla thinks about many, many things, not all of which come to fruition.

Eventually, once we hit a steady state level of production, some 90% or more of the needed scarce inputs will probably come from battery recycling. That won’t be hit for a while, though because firstly the battery demand is growing rapidly and secondly, most batteries have yet to reach end of life (so there just aren’t enough batteries to recycle yet).

Most of the LiIon batteries being tossed into landfills come from consumer goods. Car battery packs are unlikely to go the same way, there is just too much valuable material in each one.

Anonymous Coward says:


That there is only one company currently in the EV battery recycling. EV batteries are mandated to last at least 8 years, so the end of life battery stream really isn’t there yet. Over the next few years there will start to become a steady stream of batteries for recycling that will support more than one company.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Trade pollution for damage?

One thing I never understood is how you can be eco-friendly and support EV unless your ignorant. (Or a lier).

The volume of destructive mining needed to create these EV batteries is far more problematic than anyone talks about.
Your trading in air pollution for deep ore digs and strip mining.

Electric must be fead. So either we cover the entire country with wind farms and risk bird migration, or solar farms and creat heat and reflection problems, or nuclear. The latter is the pro anal best option; IF someone builds a fail proof reusable rocket system to launch our spent garbage into our local mega incinerator.

This is what I always say about environmental actions that are made without thought and planning.

Your looking to end a dirty waste (oil) with a dirty source (digging) that doesn’t have any power backend in place.

Know what would really be good for the planet? Stop! And figure out how to do everything up front! Because when I hop into my 3500 electric pickup truck in a few years to tow a load a few hundred miles: I want to feel good about my electric vehicle.

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