How We Source EV Batteries Is Important for the Battery Value Chain

March 19, 2020 by Biljana Ognenova

There is a tremendous volume of research happening in the battery field right now.

And though it looks like the next battery breakthrough is just around the corner, we still largely rely on lithium-ion batteries as a key component in the battery value chain.

Among the many R&D projects we can look forward to, which are by and large driven by electromobility advancements, a few stand out.

University research teams work on replacing Li-ion with more sustainable and faster-charging lithium-sulfur batteries, solid-state lithium anodes that are safer and last longer, robust batteries made from porous silicon with restricted storage capacity, carbon-based organic batteries, and new iron-trifluoride cathode materials that could improve energy storage of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Charging times, safety, durability, and capacity must be now considered in view of sustainability and the increased need for incorporating electric vehicles in the battery value chain.


Design Factors for EV Batteries

Charging times may not be as important for a smartphone, but they are crucial for EV, and one of the major obstacles to their widespread adoption and acceptance. Design engineers are standing in front of a complex challenge: they have to figure out how to source energy-efficient and sustainable batteries in a world of manufacturers that compete for constant battery improvement. They also need to construct EVs that sell. 

For EV especially, engineers must source out energy-dense batteries, meaning they need to be lightweight and compact at high storage capacity. EV batteries must perform well in high and low temperatures, and be durable enough to be able to match ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles in terms of longevity and cost. 


The open hood of a Prius.

An open hood of a hybrid Prius C


Each Battery Component Comes with a Volatile Price Tag

Overall, this is not an easy task for EE: on one hand, there is the highly competitive volatile market, and on the other, they are amidst an unprecedented technological change in our transportation systems that requires action now.

When an engineer starts exploring EV battery design, they need to look at the battery cell, battery module, and battery pack. 

  1. The cell requires a careful selection of materials included in manufacturing the cathode, anode, separator, and electrolytes. 
  2. The way in which the module is composed of fixed battery cells will affect the battery resistance to environmental stressors, such as heat, shock, or vibration. 
  3. Finally, the BMS (Battery Management System) in the battery pack impacts the battery performance, and, in turn, vehicle performance.   

Thermal management remains an important issue. According to the 2017 McKinsey report, thermal management systems in EVs vary between passive and active battery cooling, including battery-standalone and combined with the powertrain or the AC-circuit, and between three types of battery heating; a non-existent one, waste heat from the motor and power electronics or the AC, and dedicated resistive heating included in the battery pack. 

Extending the age of Li-ion batteries is possible, but that’s mostly the user’s job, who, at a minimum, should avoid charging with full capacity at high temperatures. 

  • For the EU Commission, sustainability is a goal in mind in all design stages, starting from: 

  • Sourcing out raw and processed materials, such as cobalt, graphite, silicon, and lithium.  

  • Chemistries and manufacturing of cell components

  • Cell production in view of the current status and projected market growth

  • Battery pack manufacturing, and

  • EV manufacturing.  

It is a long chain of segments with various stakeholder interests in play and plenty of stumbling blocks. 


Tesla model 3 charging.

A Tesla Model 3 supercharging


Can We Calculate BCV on Disruptive Markets?

One of the main hindrances in sourcing battery components is the fact that factors that affect the battery value chain are dispersed worldwide.

Despite most leading manufacturers coming from Asian markets, mainly China and South Korea (except for the U.S.-based Tesla), they are enmeshed in the regional carmakers market. The value of an EV battery cannot be observed separately from the value of the vehicle itself and where it is made. WV, for instance, has automotive plants in Germany, Shanghai, China, and the U.S.

Therefore, how research teams enhance batteries, as well as how battery manufacturers source out materials and discover fertile investment ground to build batteries, directly impacts engineers’ capacity to design with a focus on future smart and sustainable transportation grids with dominant EVs. 

When the outcome of current research rolls out and is supplemented by the results of the EU 2-billion injection for smart vehicle research, we may be looking at the numbers in the value chain with greater confidence. For now, too many circumstances are fluid and we should be cautiously open to what comes next. 

A more detailed report about how EV design trends figure in the EU battery value chain has been published back in 2016. It provides valuable insights about what to keep an eye on when planning for sourcing out battery components.