VW, Stellantis, Renault plot strategies for EV cells, materials

Questions around cost, supply and ethical sourcing of raw materials needed for the cathode in most lithium ion batteries have prompted European automakers to invest in different chemistries.

The metals typically used in the cathode in today’s batteries — nickel, manganese and cobalt (or NMC) — are expensive. To tackle this, VW has announced it will use three different chemistries, all of which reduce or remove the pricey cobalt.

During its Power Day presentations, VW said its three new cathode chemistries will be:

1. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) for the “cost-sensible entry segment”

2. High manganese for “the main volume segment”

3. High nickel “for premium and high-performance solutions.

Meanwhile, Stellantis announced two new cobalt-free cell chemistries:

1. Iron manganese for entry-level vehicles

2. Nickel manganese for more energy-dense applications.

Lithium iron phosphate, which is popular in China, is considered a key to unlocking less-expensive EV motoring in Europe.

“In the past, European automakers were very dismissive of LFP, seeing it as a poor-quality solution for EVs,” said James Frith, head of energy storage for BloombergNEF. “But they are now coming to realize that if you want an EV to cost less than £20,000 [$27,800], you have to offer a low-cost chemistry that sacrifices some range.”

Stellantis has promised its iron- manganese pack will come in 2024.

China’s lead in industrializing lithium iron phosphate will mean that European automakers are more likely to turn to Chinese automakers for raw materials and partnerships, Frith said.

Gotion, for example, is expected to make lithium iron phosphate cells for VW in Salzgitter, while Stellantis most likely will leverage its new agreement with Svolt, a spinoff of Great Wall Motors, to supply LFP-style cells from a planned factory in Saarlouis, Germany, with production slated to begin in 2023.

Daimler will also “vary chemistries depending on customer needs in different markets” Chief Technology Officer Sajjad Khan said at the company’s July EV strategy presentation, without going into further detail.

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