lithium prices upBattery prices have become one of the major obstacles for EVs in terms of competing in an auto market saturated with lower-cost cars running on internal combustion engines. Electric vehicles are already too expensive for most prospective car buyers to even consider, and bringing that price down is crucial for the movement of eco-friendly vehicles to take flight.

Whether automakers can decrease the production prices of their EVs and make them stay down is largely determined by how the battery is constructed. Most EVs run off of lithium batteries, so how does the volatile price of lithium factor into the potential success of electric vehicles as a whole?

This is a more relevant question than ever, as global lithium prices have more than doubled over the past six months, causing automakers to scramble for new ways to fill their necessary supply of the rare metal. However, according to a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and published in theĀ Journal of Power Sources, these soaring lithium prices likely won’t actually impact electric-car battery costs.

Researchers Rebecca Ciez and Jay Whitacre analyzed many lithium-ion cell chemistries and found that large increases in the global price of lithium won’t actually translate into large lith2increases in the price of battery cells. They explained this in the context of two chosen prismatic cell designs along with two lithium-ion cell chemistries. The researchers then constructed a bill of materials and broke down the costs of the cells, ultimately finding the potential impact of large fluctuations in the price of lithium on the over all cost of producing the batteries.

Ciez and Whitacre found that even a 300 percent increase in the cost of lithium would not lead to an increase in battery cost of the same magnitude. In fact, the maximum increase in cost per kilowatt-hour for the four batteries studied would actually be less than 10 percent, according to the researchers. For the cost of creating the batteries to increase by 15 percent, the cost of lithium would have to increase by 500 percent.

lith3According to the researchers, the cost of lithium could never stay at 500 percent of what it is now, as those kinds of prices would attract other lithium producers, who would ultimately increase supply and lower prices.

As for the lithium supply running out all-together, it’s unlikely that it will run out any time soon. The researchers have stated that lithium is plentiful on our planet, and that the current sources supplying lithium to battery companies aren’t the only sources, simply the cheapest sources.

The researchers said lithium could also be extracted from seawater, for example.

At the end of the day, the researchers found that battery suppliers would need to achieve lower costs for lithium ion cells through other means, as lithium supply is simply not enough of a factor to affect price predictions or lower prices substantially. A sophisticated and elegant system must be found that will allow for the batteries to function better and be produced more easily; there’s simply no other way around it.

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