Battery-powered electric vehicles (“EVs”) are slowly but surely becoming the dominant force on the roads. EVs run on clean energy and produce minimal emissions, making them the perfect vehicle for a net-zero economy. Most, if not all, battery electric vehicles use lithium-ion or li-ion batteries. In fact, most consumer electronics, as well as home solar storage solutions, also use lithium-ion batteries.
However, not many people know that nickel plays a role in the production and operation of such batteries. The first Toyota Prius hit the market back in the mid-1990s, partly powered by a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery. Long used in the production of batteries, nickel has the ability to deliver higher energy density and greater storage capacity at a lower cost than other metals.
Due to this, nickel is used in two types of cathode chemistries in li-ion battery production: nickel-manganese-cobalt (“NMC”) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum (“NCA”). Both of these chemistries are quite dependent on nickel, and the dependency is sure to grow as manufacturers slowly transition from cobalt to drive manufacturing costs down.
However, like plenty of the minerals needed in battery production, nickel requires somewhat sophisticated mining processes. Most lithium-ion manufacturers prefer nickel-sulfate for production, with this compound being produced through nickel laterite ores or nickel sulfide ores. Both of these ores have to go through several stages of hydrometallurgical or high-temperature processing followed by additional refinement treatments.
Along with mining the compound from the earth, these processes require a ton of energy. They also emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases, which is quite ironic as these technologies were developed to reduce carbon emissions. On top of that, minerals aren’t an infinite resource, and as EVs gain widespread adoption and manufacturers move away from cobalt to nickel formulations, we’ll surely run out. Industry experts predict that we may see a sizable nickel deficit by the next decade.
One way to make nickel more sustainable would be to commercialize closed-loop technologies and resource recovery processes that allow crucial battery components to be recycled. Using a combination of mechanical shredding and wet chemistry, 80–100% of all the crucial components in lithium-ion batteries can be recovered and recycled. This would reduce the need for extensive mining as a lot of crucial components would be recovered, preserving deposits of finite natural resources.
As manufacturers move towards nickel for their battery formulations, it is crucial that they find ways to minimize the negative effects of mining and processing cobalt. Investing in EV battery recycling technologies will ultimately reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced during the processing of nickel compounds.
ev Transportation Services Inc. is one electric vehicle industry company that you should watch. The company focuses on developing, designing and manufacturing fully electric, lightweight vehicles as well as providing fleet-management solutions.
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