Lithium-Ion Battery Costs Will Decrease, But It Might Not Be Enough

According to a recent study conducted by Lux Research, the cost of lithium-ion batteries will drop to $397/kWh by 2020, but that figure is still much higher than what some experts believe the cost of these batteries must be in order to drive mass-market adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

‘Vehicle applications demand a different scale in both size and performance, and no other incumbent technology combines the power and energy performance of Li-ion batteries,’ says Kevin See, a Lux Research analyst and the lead author of the report titled ‘Searching for Innovations to Cut Li-ion Battery Costs.’

‘Plug-in vehicles' fates are tied to the cost of Li-ion batteries, so developers need to focus on the innovations that have biggest impact on cost,’ he notes.

Lux Research studied the cost structure of Li-ion batteries and considered the innovations that could drive decreases in cost necessary to spur growth of the EV market. Among their conclusions:

  • Materials improvement and scale are insufficient to cut costs. While scale does have a significant impact in driving costs down, it is not likely to lead to a disruptive drop in battery pack costs unless coupled with other innovations.
  • Cathodes remain the biggest target. Cathode capacity and voltage improvement hold much more value than anode innovation. In the optimal case, with a maximum voltage increase of 1 V and capacity increase of 200 mAh/g, the nominal pack cost dropped 20%.
  • Getting beyond Li-ion remains a focus. Technologies such as Li-air, Mg-ion, Li-S and solid-state batteries push past the limitations of Li-ion batteries and achieve higher energy densities and specific energies. Each technology has its supporters – PolyPlus and IBM for Li-air, Toyota for Mg-ion, Sion Power and BASF for Li-S and Sakti3 for solid-state batteries – but all face significant obstacles. A clear leading contender that can meet strict requirements on cycle life, power performance and manufacturability has yet to emerge.

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