Lithium iron phosphate batteries: The future of EV technology?
Forget lithium-ion. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries for Electric Vehicles are rapidly speeding into our lives. Leading this charge appears to be Tesla, with Elon Musk indicating a shift of more of his EVs to LFP battery cells. He’s increasingly betting on rechargeable battery technology that doesn’t use cobalt or nickel. Phosphorus – already an EU Critical Raw Material – it seems, is going to be more in demand than ever.
Here we look at why there’s so much hype currently about LFP batteries.
Cobalt enables the energy density needed to create batteries with long run times. However, it’s a highly controversial mineral, with most of it coming from mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 59% of the world’s supply is sourced from the DRC, and yet, it’s a place that’s been historically been affected by conflict. Allegations of child labour are also rife.
The production of cobalt is also considered quite polluting. Given the environmentally-friendly credentials of EVs, this is at odds with our global green revolution. Cobalt is also one of the most expensive ingredients in EV batteries, costing between $33,000 and $35,000 per ton.
Less expensive EVs
Taking out cobalt, therefore, means less expensive batteries – and, of course, more affordable Electric Vehicles. At the moment, the higher price of an EV is in many ways holding back the electrification of our roads. In other words, for many consumers, it’s still too costly to ‘go green’. If cobalt is needed less in EV batteries, manufacturers will be able to lower the price – and with it, propel our green march forward.
Combating range anxiety
Another barrier to our EV adoption is so-called ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of batteries simply running out half way through a long journey. As we mentioned, cobalt batteries have impressive capacity that allow EVs to go a decent distance. Previously, batteries that included phosphate couldn’t boast the same.
However, researchers at Pennsylvania State University are developing LFP batteries that have a range of 250 miles, and an ability to charge in just 10 minutes. There are mentions of this type of battery having a lifetime of two million miles (or 3.2 million kilometres). Back to our point on EV technology needing to be as green as possible, and the much longer lifecycles of LFP batteries is clearly a significant benefit. It’s also claimed they can go on to have second of third lives as electricity storage – an example of the circular economy in action.
The safety factor
As well as the green credentials of EV batteries, overheating is a real concern – sometimes resulting in a fire or explosion. Nickel-based batteries have a higher energy density; like cobalt, this means they can carry a vehicle further when charged. However, they can overheat, posing a potential safety risk to drivers. Back to the team of researchers at Pennsylvania State University, and their experiments have shown that ‘the key to long-life and rapid recharging is the battery’s ability to quickly heat up to 140°F (60°C), for charge and discharge, and then cool down when the battery is not working.’ This prevention of overheating, experts say, makes LFP batteries a safer option.
This brings us back to our opening point. Phosphorus is already in high global demand, given its use in fertilisers that underpin the world’s food supply. Now it’s being used in EV battery technology that’s cheaper, safer, greener – that also removes range anxiety and the need for controversial cobalt. Norge Mining’s recent Mineral Resource Estimate confirms that our Øygrei site contains a world-class deposit of phosphate (as well as vanadium and titanium). While the world is increasingly looking to Norway to solve a potential phosphate fertiliser crisis, it may soon do the same for LFP battery ingredients.