Tucked beneath the floor of most electric vehicles today is a nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion battery. The chemistry has had a dominant run as EVs have proliferated because of its ability to hold an ample charge.
But NMC is being challenged, experts say, as lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries provide a cheaper alternative that trades some range.
“LFP, from a manufacturer standpoint, is a great compromise,” said Conrad Layson, senior alternative-propulsion analyst at AutoForecast Solutions, a U.S.-based global consultancy and forecasting firm.
“From a user standpoint, it might be too much of a compromise. We won’t know that yet until it really propagates out here in the Western market.”
LFP batteries, which fall under the lithium-ion umbrella, are already powering a substantial number of EVs in China. But they have not reached Canada or the United States in any appreciable volume, said Dan Blondal, CEO of Nano One Materials Corp., a Vancouver-based battery technology firm.
Blondal does not expect LFP to supplant NMC entirely, but he sees it being used in lower-cost models.
“There’s never going to be a winning chemistry because they all have different strengths and weaknesses.”
He estimates that LFP battery packs up to 60 kilowatt-hours and vehicles with ranges of about 400 kilometres mark the high point of its capabilities.
COOLER, SAFER, CHEAPER
The cooler running temperature and better safety credentials — with slim to no chance of bursting into flames — have helped LFP batteries gain ground on NMC in China, said Layson.
Cost and availability of resources are among LFP’s other relative benefits, Blondal said. The expensive nickel and cobalt required in NMC is replaced in the LFP formula by relatively cheap iron and phosphate, letting automakers cut battery and overall EV costs.
Through 2021, LFP battery cells cost about 30 per cent less than NMC cells, according to BloombergNEF.
But the cost equation fluctuates.
LFP has typically been cheaper than NMC, said Yayoi Sekine, head of energy storage at BloombergNEF, but recent spikes in the price of lithium, which both battery types require, have narrowed the gap.
“It actually matters more for LFP than it does for the other chemistries because as a percentage of the total weight, LFP does have a higher percentage” of lithium, Sekine said.
In Canada and the United States, EV range might prove to be a greater liability for LFP. The chemistry cannot match the energy density of NMC, Layson said. And unless consumers here show a willingness to compromise on range, he remains skeptical about widespread LFP uptake.
LFP IS COMING, BUT...