Elon Musk-Backed EV Battery Technology Rises to Dominance in China

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Tesla, Chinese manufacturer ahead of rivals in using less-expensive iron in place of nickel

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LFP batteries have moved on to lead in China because they use relatively cheap iron in the cathode of the battery instead of expensive metals such as nickel.

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Their rise coincides with the emergence of electric vehicles as a mass market product in China. In 2021, new energy vehicles, a category that consists mostly of EVs, accounted for nearly one in six passenger cars sold in China, the world’s top auto market.

As Chinese car dealers sell more EVs and a larger proportion of those EVs have LFP batteries, iron battery production is increasing. The government-backed China Automotive Battery Research Institute said that in 2021, Chinese battery makers will produce 125.4 gigawatt-hours of LFP batteries, more than three times the figure from a year earlier.

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US and European car companies have traditionally balked at LFP batteries because they have a lower energy density than nickel-based batteries, meaning the cars they power cannot travel on a single charge. can. LFP batteries are also more likely to suffer from poor performance in cold weather.

Over the past two decades, Chinese companies trying to catch up with Japan and the US in battery technology have focused on improving LFP technology, not only because of cost, but also because batteries are less likely to catch fire. The Chinese government’s change in EV subsidies, which previously favored long-distance cars, also helped the technology gain an edge.

One of the strongest advocates is Tesla’s Mr. Musk, who has said that getting enough nickel at a reasonable cost is a major production concern. He has pushed against the idea that customers who buy LFP cars are getting a second class product.

“Our intention with this pack is that the product feel is almost on par between Nickel and Iron,” Mr. Musco wrote on twitter last august To a customer who was offered first delivery of Tesla if he had opted for the LFP option.

“I personally would opt for the iron pack a bit, as it wants to charge to 100% while nickel prefers ~90%,” Mr Musk said in a Twitter post.

Carmakers in the US, Europe and Japan are all pushing battery production and many are working on LFP technology, but they are generally not as far ahead as Tesla and Chinese manufacturers in bringing the technology into mass market production. have been able to grow.

Tesla first used LFP batteries for its China-made Model 3 in 2020. Last October, the company said it would use iron-based batteries for all of its Standard-class cars. China’s contemporary Amperex Technology Company, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric-vehicle batteries, supplies LFP batteries to Tesla.

Other Chinese electric vehicle brands are also becoming heavy users of the LFP cathode. The Hong Guang Mini, a small hatchback priced at $4,400, was China’s best-selling EV in 2021. It is made by a joint venture of General Motors. Co.

and two other Chinese companies.

Warren Buffett-Backed BYD Co.

Ltd., a Chinese company that makes both electric vehicles and the batteries in them, has designed an LFP battery in the shape of a blade. It says that its design has a high energy density to give the EVs a longer range.

According to the company’s social-media account, when announcing the battery last year, BYD vice president He Long said, “Almost all car brands you can think of are in talks with us about collaborations based on Blade battery technologies.” are.”

Write Yang Jie at [email protected]

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