Between 2000 and 2018, the number of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) manufactured was multiplied by 80. In 2018, 66% of them were used in electric vehicles (EVs). The planned development of electric mobility will increase demand for batteries, with the International Energy Agency estimating that between 2019 and 2030, battery demand will grow 17-fold.
This situation raises many questions related to the materials used to manufacture these batteries: what resources are involved? What are the environmental impacts of extracting them? Can they be recycled?
When looking into the materials in the LIBs that are currently used in the vast majority of EVs, the first thing to know is that there are multiple kinds of battery technology. While all contain lithium, the other components vary: batteries in telephones or computers contain cobalt, whereas those for vehicles may contain cobalt with nickel or manganese, or none at all in the case of iron-phosphate technologies.
The exact chemical composition of these storage components is difficult to identify, as it is a trade secret. Furthermore, improvements are regularly made to batteries to increase their performance, so their chemical composition evolves over time. In any case, the main materials involved in manufacturing LIBs are lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and graphite. These have all been identified as materials presenting supply and environmental risks.