Western weaknesses in lithium-ion supply chains will slow EV adoption, says GlobalData

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While the Biden Administration’s $1 trillion Infrastructure Bill clearly focuses on electric vehicle (EV) development, both the US and the EU will remain dependent on China’s lithium-ion battery supply chain for the foreseeable future, according to data and analytics company GlobalData.

GlobalData predicts EV production to skyrocket to 12.76 million cars produced each year by 2026, with over half coming from China.

With lithium prices set to rise throughout the next decade, the EV sector in the West will have to face rising battery costs. If they pass costs onto the consumer, EV adoption will likely accelerate at a slower rate than previously expected, according to GlobalData.

GlobalData notes that the price of lithium carbonate is set to rise worldwide, from just over $10,000 in 2020 to nearly $14,000 in 2024.

The firm predicts China will dominate the lithium-Ion battery supply chain, specifically in terms of battery cells, cathode and anode production, and chemical refining.

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Daniel Clarke, Thematic analyst at GlobalData, said: “You can’t just click your fingers and make a fully working lithium-ion battery supply chain appear – it takes time. The recent decision by Johnson Mathey to withdraw from UK battery manufacturing demonstrates just how hard building a supply chain can be.

“Western economies are quite far behind China already, with the country having held an 80.5% share of lithium-ion battery capacity in 2020. Even with the US and EU’s best efforts, China will still dominate by 2026, with an expected 61.4% share. Further, China is strikingly dominant in both chemical refining and the production of cathodes and anodes – all critical parts of the supply chain. In the meantime, the US and EU remain vulnerable in this important future market.”

“The rising price of lithium demonstrates what many in the industry have warned about for some time: the growing divergence between supply and demand for lithium. Ultimately, this will lead to an increase in the price of EVs, as automakers pass the cost onto the consumer.”

Clarke continued: “Batteries are already the most expensive part of an EV. Cell costs would need to be notably below $100 per kilowatt hour for mainstream production to take off, but this isn’t looking likely. Any increases in cost will be a blow to the decarbonization agenda of advanced economies, as well as lead to a deceleration in the decarbonization of the automotive industry.

“To reduce future bottlenecks, governments at COP26 need to incentivize investment into new mines for raw materials needed in EV production, as well further develop sustainable lithium-ion battery supply chains. Unfortunately, mines can take up to seven years to build, and demand for EVs is increasing by the day.”

GlobalData’s report, ‘Thematic Research: Electric vehicle batteries (2021)’, notes that one of the core challenges for EV adoption is keeping the cost of a lithium-ion battery as low as possible.