Battery Production How are Electric Car Batteries Made?
Vastly different from your typical sealed lead acid car battery, an EV’s battery is a power pack like none other. Manufacturing this style of battery uses materials and process that are on a completely different scale, and every part of it is intentional.
Electric cars remain much more expensive on average than a gas-powered car – about one-third more overall. It’s due to a handful of reasons including the exclusivity of EV transportation and the premium manufacturing materials in the cabin. The largest reason for an EVs high comparative price, though, is because of the cost to develop and manufacture battery packs.
EV batteries cost roughly $156 US per kilowatt hour (kWh). The Nissan LEAF has a 40-kWh battery which would cost in the vicinity of $6,000 while a Tesla Model S P85D’s 85kWh battery can be expected to cost around $13,000. Undoubtedly, the battery cost alone can be as much as a used car’s price, making it prohibitive until manufacturing costs fall.
Still, EV batteries are a marvel. Here’s what goes into making an electric car battery.
Materials in an EV batteries
In production right now, all EV batteries are lithium-ion. However, it is far from the only material used in battery development.
- Lithium is a mined mineral used in all EV batteries currently in production. This extremely valuable resource is mined primarily in Australia and Chile and has a low melting point and high heat capacity. Lithium is found at an EVs anode, or negatively charged post.
- Nickel is mined almost worldwide and is widely used for many industries, especially batteries. It makes up anywhere from 33 to 80 percent of an EV battery’s cathode, or positively-charged pole. Nickel has a higher energy density so it aids in extending range.
- Cobalt is an important resource for manufacturing EV batteries. The Democratic Republic of Congo produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s cobalt. It’s combined with nickel to make up the cathode in many batteries.
- Manganese can be used in batteries instead of cobalt. It’s the fourth most used metal in manufacturing and is low-cost. Manganese could be one of the tickets to lowering EV battery costs.
- Graphite is the second most commonly used component in batteries in terms of volume and weight. It’s used to make the anode in batteries, of which there is no substitute. Graphite allows full power to be used until the battery is discharged because it has a flat voltage profile.
Methods of Manufacturing
While every manufacturer uses their own proprietary design, EV batteries follow a common structure: battery cells, battery modules, and a battery pack.
Battery cells typically look much like AA or AAA batteries that you’d use in electronics. Each has a cathode and anode, plus an electrolyte and separator. Individually, battery cells do not have much capacity at all.
For that reason, battery cells are linked together in series creating a battery module. It effectively combines the capacity of all the cells to act as a single unit. Depending on how many cells are in a module, it can generate as much capacity as 2 to 10 kWh. The Nissan LEAF has as few as four cells per module while the Tesla Model 3 has 46 cells per module. Still that doesn’t offer much for range or energy supply.
Several modules are joined in series as well in an EV. When modules are used in series, they become a battery pack. Combined, the battery pack can commonly generate 40kWh to 100kWh for the electric motors. However, there are extended range batteries ready for vehicles in development like the Rivian R1T that contains a 180-kWh battery pack.