Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom

Yves here. Some environmentalists have warned that electronic vehicles aren’t as green as they have been touted to be, since they require materials where supplies may not be able to keep up with demand and/or the inputs are environmentally nasty. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about lithium, and now it appears that at least near term, nickel will be in short supply.

Of course, it would be better if more people could be weaned off cars altogether, and quickly too, but we aren’t on that track.

By Jon LeSage. Originally published at SafeHaven

For Tesla and its chief competitors in the race for global domination of electric vehicle sales, it ain’t all about lithium ion.

There are other valuable metals needed to make the battery packs do what’s asked of them, with nickel being essential. Tesla and its battery producer partners, and other automakers and their suppliers, are worried about the longer-term supply of nickel according to a new study by BloombergNEF.

The study predicts that EV makers will be driving demand for nickel about 16 times to 1.8 million tons in the next years.

Class-one nickel, a high-purity material used in batteries, is expected to see demand greatly outstrip supply in the next few years. That will be fueled by meeting the large Chinese EV market, and other global markets where demand is expected to grow.

That need for class-one nickel will outstrip supply within five years, according to the study.

One problem has been a lack of real investment in new mines for materials including nickel, Tesla’s global supply manager of battery metals, Sarah Maryssael, said at a Washington meeting in May. That could drive up prices as battery demand increases greatly.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is concerned about having enough economically viable — and available — metal to continue meeting its growing electric car demand. That will take off even more as the company taps into China’s booming markets.

“They are getting ready to have the new factory in China, and are at full capacity in North America,’’ Peter Bradford, chief executive officer of nickel producer Independence Group NL, said. “They recognize the biggest risk from a strategic supply point of view is nickel.’’

Bradford last week met with one of Tesla’s battery metals supply chain team. His company, Perth-based Independence, last year increased nickel output from its Nova mine in Western Australia. Independence will be spending as much as A$75 million ($51 million) on exploration in an effort to extend the asset’s life and find new deposits.

Bradford’s industry had been focused mainly on supplying the metal to stainless steel. By 2030, the BloombergNEF study expects that batteries will account for more than half of demand for the valuable class-one nickel.

Metal suppliers have been scrambling to find the right metal to fill that demand. Australian firm BHP, the biggest maker, is betting on bright-turquoise colored nickel sulphate. That will be taking place at its nickel refinery south of Perth, with plans to potentially carry out the industry’s largest expansion.

The mining company had been seeking a buyer for its Nickel West facility, but reversed course recently after reviewing growth forecasts in lithium-ion batteries and a scarcity of high-quality nickel supply.

The challenge will be there to mass produce more affordable EVs and meet consumer demand in China and other key markets; battery costs have been the biggest stumbling block to reaching that sales volume. Increasing government mandates to bring in more EVs is part of the forecast, with incentives being offered and alliances being forged to increase public charging stations.

Tesla is seeing car buyers impatiently waiting for delivery of their Model 3 electric cars. The company is betting that its upcoming Model Y will be in strong demand, and is already preparing to have production capacity in place more in line with the popular Model 3.

The Model 3 looks like a smaller version of the Model S, and the Model Y will be available to car shoppers interested in the crossover SUV functionally of the Model X, but also want to have a more affordable and smaller alternative. Musk is also promising that the Model Y will have 300 miles of range, which would address a critical concern for buyers ready to leave their gasoline-powered cars behind for the first time ever.

new Wood Mackenzie study sees the metals problem much broader, with lithium, cobalt, and nickel supplies to be worst hit over the next few years.

Supply for the three metals is fine for now, said Gavin Montgomery, research director at Wood Mackenzie. Short-term market prices have fallen, and that will deter producers from increasing supply to meet future demand, he said.

But long-term that will change. Demand is expected to grow so rapidly with car makers taking on their ambitious goals to mass produce EVs, that metal suppliers won’t be able to keep up, Montgomery said.

Automakers and their battery partners need to start planning for it now.

“Getting the quantity of nickel that (electric vehicles) will need by the mid-2020s will be a challenge … with lead times often up to 10 years, investment needs to happen now,” Montgomery said.

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62 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I find it hard to believe battery demand is having much impact on nickel supply or demand. The overwhelming use for Nickel worldwide is in manufacturing stainless steel – the body of an electric car probably has more nickel than the batteries. According to the Nickel Institute, only 3% of worldwide demand goes into batteries.

    It is true that the latest generation of lithium batteries generally need more nickel to increase energy density, but its still a very small proportion of worldwide demand. You would need an exponential increase to have a significant impact, and at that level other key minerals such as Cobalt would be the limiting factor.

    Reply
    1. Fred

      I join you in the skepticism, especially after reading this line in that article: “The mining company had been seeking a buyer for its Nickel West facility, but reversed course recently …” It’s not like companies haven’t engaged in puffery before.

      Reply
    2. Randy

      Something is always threatening the EV boom. Something/Someone/Somegroup are always threatening americans. Threats are everywhere. Boo hoo hoo. Everybody should get over all this crap.

      Reply
  2. Jerry B

    ===it would be better if more people could be weaned off cars altogether===

    That is a nice dream but the US is so car centric and that will be a problem in the future.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/07/29/was-the-automotive-era-a-terrible-mistake

    https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/absurd-primacy-of-the-car-in-american-life/476346/

    Probably much like oil now, the US will “try” to use its military might to hoard as much of the world’s metals/minerals as it can in order to keep the cars and trucks moving. China is going to do likewise.

    My wife and I recently relocated from the suburbs of Chicago to Appleton Wisconsin mostly for cheaper housing. As a born and bred big city person I am already going through “withdrawal symptoms” of not being near a major city, mostly for access to multiple colleges and and a vast amount of public libraries. I love Chicago but it is not the city I remember of my youth in the 1960’s. It has become vastly unequal, crowded, violent, dirty, and expensive. I digress.

    My wife and I were talking about the fact that many countries in Europe, Japan, and China have high speed rail systems. So if the US had high speed rail connecting the small, medium, and large cities, instead of a four hour car ride from Appleton, Wi to Minneapolis, MN, I would have a two hour train ride. Instead of a three hour plus car ride from Appleton to Chicago I could visit the city I love in an hour and a half train ride.

    I might be overly romanticizing the benefits of high speed rail so hopefully Yves and other NC commenters who have spent time in Japan and China can offer their views on high speed rail’s pros and cons.

    For the US to invest heavily in mass transit and high speed rail would require a paradigm shift and I do not see that happening until we have exhausted every last drop of oil or minerals/metals to feed our addiction to the car/truck.

    The rail system for the Chicago Metro area, Metra Rail, still has passenger rail coach cars from the 1950’s and I believe some locomotives from the 1970’s. If the third largest city in the US cannot support decent commuter rail service I am not optimistic about a paradigm shift any time soon. For a paradigm shift to mass transit to happen, borrowing from addiction theory, the addict (the US car and oil consumers and industry) would need to hit bottom and then maybe change will occur. In other words when people are no longer getting rich off of oil and the automotive industrial complex.

    Reply
    1. TroyIA

      I too have thought the U. S. could benefit from high speed rail. We already have a robust interstate system so just put the track along the median.

      Reply
      1. p. fitzsimon

        Exactly, here in the Boston area we have the most plugged roads in the U.S of A. Impossible to build new roads and extremely difficult to widen existing roads. Ergo, convert or share existing roads with electrified mass transport,

        Reply
    2. ef

      I know the feelin… Take MegaBus from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, 7 hours, with rates starting around $30. And they call that mass transit. And when you think of a paradigm shift, think of the sanctity of current day travel along routes 90/94 cutting through the prairies at 70-80 miles/hour in our own gas guzzlers, never mind having to navigate through the mistakes of futures EV’s and their drivers.
      That entire route could handle high speed rail easily.

      Reply
      1. Jerry B

        Thanks ef. As I mention in my comment I am going through withdrawal symptoms being away from a large/major city metro area so I have already researched cheap “ways” to get from Appleton to Chicago or Minneapolis. Choices are pretty much limited to puddle jumper airlines (not cheap) or driving a car (not environmentally friendly) and not cheap either (requires renting or buying a car).

        ==think of the sanctity of current day travel along routes 90/94 cutting through the prairies at 70-80 miles/hour in our own gas guzzlers===

        Amen. During moving from the far suburbs of Chicago to Appleton we made frequent car trips and all around Milwaukee 90/94 is being extensively widened to like roughly six lanes or more.

        Also speaking of cutting through prairies, in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago they are building a new highway/tollway called the Longmeadow Parkway. It is literally cutting through forests and prairies all to ease congestion for commuters as they commute to the far suburbs were housing is cheaper.

        Lastly, my wife and I frequently travel to Madison, WI for the Dane County Farmers market. For the past several years Wisconsin has been completely rebuilding WI-90 between the Illinois/WI border to Madison from two lanes each way to four-six lanes each way.

        With all the highway rebuilding and extensive widening going on in Illinois and Wisconsin (and other states too), a cynical/skeptical person would think the oil barons and elites are doing everything they can to ensure their profit stream from fossil fuels and our car dependent culture lasts for as long as it can.

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether

          No buses? Bus service from Bangor to Boston are surprisingly excellent (not Greyhound).

          Dang. There is Lamers, though the name gives me pause…

          Here is a map of Wisconsin interurban rail (trolleys) with bus connections in 1933:

          That’s what we need, not high-speed rail.

          Reply
          1. Jerry B

            Nope no buses. In my research on alternatives other than car or airline, I read that Appleton used to have Greyhound bus service until very recently and it was cancelled.

            The Appleton-Neenah-Oshkosh area has a local mass transit bus service called Valley Transit which helps with local commutes.

            Lamers is a charter bus line and is not for mass transit commutes.

            ==That’s what we need, not high-speed rail.===

            I agree and disagree. I am not completely knowledgeable on the pros and cons of high speed rail but maybe both better bus routes and high speed rail. I do not know how environmentally friendly/unfriendly high speed rail is compared to the all the passengers on a train driving individual cars. My guess is the train is better.

            However as ef mentions above if the bus service is a 7 hour bus ride from Milwaukee to Minneapolis I’ll take high speed rail.

            Lastly can you imagine the economic boost for the country if we could get from Chicago to Minneapolis in half the time using high speed rail?? Airlines and airports are a such a hassle that I bet many people would jump at the chance to have a rail system similar to Japan’s or China’s.

            Thanks for the trolley/bus map.

            Reply
            1. Jm

              Japan is naturally suited to high-speed rail because a single linear trunk line can serve nearly all the nation’s major cities, and the high population density means a large percentage of the population is reasonably near a station.

              Reply
      2. Math is Your Friend

        “That entire route could handle high speed rail easily.”

        No, it probably could not.

        High speed rail is very, very expensive to build, and needs a high density of travellers to actually pay the bills. That’s why the new high speed rail lines in the UK are in trouble, running through money like Niagara Falls runs though water (or vice versa), and why they will probably never be completed. And this is in a compact country with a large population relative to its size, and an orientation towards train travel.

        It would be a LOT more expensive than your MegaBus (though another bus was advertised at $19), and would likely hit insolvency in short order, being unable to compete with the alternatives – much more expensive than a bus, much slower than a plane, and much less flexible, capable, private and convenient than a car.

        If you want to see information on the costs and problems of high speed rail, search “HS2 UK” on the web.

        Reply
        1. human

          Monetary costs are not an issue for a legitimate government and monetary sovereign, only real resource constraints.

          Reply
          1. Math is Your Friend

            “Monetary costs are not an issue for a legitimate government and monetary sovereign, only real resource constraints.”

            Either this makes no sense, or I do not understand it.

            In an economy that uses money, money is a decentralized, highly parallel, adaptive method of allocating real resources.

            A budget, whether personal, corporate, or governmental, is a plan for the allocation of real resources, in a quasi-successful attempt to inject reality into deliberative and planning processes, particularly when they are governmental/political in nature.

            It is also a way of allocating those resources based on priority. If it is more important, you ought to be willing to spend more money on it.

            So, if a high speed rail line between Minneapolis and wherever it was is important enough, what four or five other major projects are you willing to sacrifice to do it?

            What ongoing services are you going to sacrifice to pay the ongoing operational and maintenance costs?

            What delays do you wish to accept during (a) construction and (b) operation… because a train that goes at a vastly different speed is likely to require priorities over other traffic, with accompanying disruption.

            The British government can find the money to finish the promised HS2 plan, if they are willing to sacrifice enough other projects and services. It doesn’t look like that will happen. Saying that it will cost too much to finish is really a short form of admitting that the benefits do not justify the linked losses in other areas.

            From what I remember of casual reading about the US, the money (resources) might be better spent replacing some 5,000 decaying bridges. Or improving education. Or reducing childhood malnutrition. Or remediating open pit mines and planting trees on them. Or improving municipal water systems. Or providing basic health insurance. Increasing literacy. Reforming prisons. Providing better legal aid. Putting precision landing systems into all runways on all major airports. Replacing vulnerable voting machines with better open source machines, or a paper ballot system.

            Pick your own better ‘nice to have’ pile… but if you can’t persuade people to pay for a high speed train, that’s a sign that it isn’t at the top of their list of priorities.

            Which, among other things, might be a sign that not that many people would actually use it if you built it.

            Reply
              1. Math is Your Friend

                Thanks for the tip.

                I suspected it was some kind of hand-wavy reality avoidance theory/ideology, but I didn’t know it had a name.

                I’ll have to look into it further. At a quick glance, it does seem to have a lot of ways to fail spectacularly.

                It does look like you could use it to breed a lot of unicorns, though.

                Reply
                1. Jerry B

                  Wow. In your comment I did not see a well thought and developed argument against or for MMT or alternatives. You packed a lot of judgement into a few sentences. I would recommend doing some serious reading on MMT and then come back with a solid argument against it. From what little I have read on MMT it is not perfect but I tend to look at things in a take what you need and leave the rest view. Even people who are critics of MMT see some value in it.

                  In todays Water Cooler a commenter post a link that to me has similarities to MMT theory:

                  https://www.truthdig.com/articles/neoliberalism-has-met-its-match-in-china/

                  Other Post Keynesian theorists are Abba P. Lerner, Michael Kalecki, and Marc Lavoie.

                  Here is a good paper discussing mainstream macroeconomics and MMT:

                  Mainstream Macroeconomics and Modern Monetary Theory

                  https://www.ineteconomics.org/…/mainstream-macroeconomics-and-moder…

                  BTW I hope you realize that economics as a whole and mainstream macroeconomics can be ideological as well??

                  Reply
    3. Randy

      I have been in Appleton and Appleton is what I would define as the textbook example of urban sprawl.

      I agree it is a shame we can’t have regional rail, thank Walker for that.

      Reply
  3. CoryP

    So why does it sound like China pursuing the EV market as aggressively as the West? I was under the impression they had not-stupid people in charge of their planned, mixed, whatever-with-Chinese-characteristics economy.

    I mean, it can’t just be online hippies who realize that personal vehicles aren’t going to be sustainable long run. Unless I completely misread and their interest is in solely in mass transit EVs, but I don’t think I did.

    Hopefully this question isn’t too ignorant. I could obviously do more research but I’m asking in case someone here already understands.

    Reply
    1. Stadist

      The mainstream still believes in the green tech saving us from climate change, this idea enables the preservation of current economic system for major parts and thus is the preferred option for those currently in power.

      Reply
      1. Jerry B

        ===this idea enables the preservation of current economic system for major parts and thus is the preferred option for those currently in power.==

        Great comment. As Lambert has said many times, “Everything is going according to plan”.

        Building on your comment and my previous comment in this post, even though China seems to have an extensive network of high speed rail, their car culture has exploded with the growing middle class in China. If I remember correctly, Buick sells more cars/SUV’s in China than in the US. Also, China is a very rural country much like the US and many people commute to city centers for jobs. If you do not have access to high speed rail in China then your choice is to commute by car if you can afford one.

        As I mentioned in my previous comment, I am not knowledgeable in China high speed rail and the commuter rail network in China may not be that extensive hence many people have to drive to jobs in cities. A few years ago there was a massive traffic jam in Beijing where people were stuck in their cars for hours. Probably to address the smog issue in China, they are trying to convert to green EV cars as well as mass transit EV since their rail networks cannot accommodate 1.4 billion people.

        Paraphrasing your comment: Cars make people rich by “preservation of current economic system for major parts” and their needed metals, minerals, and oil. Nobody gets rich from mass transit. As always follow the money and who benefits.

        Reply
        1. Roger Boyd

          Due to the high speed rail, Chinese tend not to drive long distances in their cars in the same way that North Americans do. This makes the uptake of EV’s much easier, as less “range anxiety”. China is on the way to having 10% of all cars sold being EV’s by December, with continued rapid growth after that.

          With China importing so much oil, and the US as a possible threat to interdict those supplies (as the US did to Japan, triggering Pearl Harbour), I would not be surprised to see China turbo-charge (pun intended) the move to EV’s to reduce the energy security exposure.

          Reply
      2. OwenFinn

        Totally agree – when a paradigm shift away from cars is desperately needed, hybrid cars, EVs, self-driving cars, et al, just reaffirm the same old paradigm that got us into the mess we are in.

        Reply
    2. Zamfir

      China is surely going to end up with less cars per capita than the US, but that still leaves a lot of cars… People really like cars, including the Chinese.At the moment, China is comparable to Singapore when it comes to cars per capita, somewhat under 0.2 (compared to 0.9 for theUS or 0.6 for the EU) .

      Singaporean anti-car efforts are draconian, and its geography is about as perfect for a car-free life as it gets. China is going to end up with more cars per capita than Singapore, even if it were ruled by online hippies. Which it is not, its guiding principle for the last decades was basically “let’s have more stuff like cars no matter the consequences”.

      So why electric? One issue is air pollution, the most tangible result of that “no matter the consequences”. They want to cut back on that. They also care about climate change, perhaps more than the west (if only because it seems to hit them harder). Not enough to cut consumption, obviously, for the same reasons as the rest of the world.

      Another: it’s a blank-slate opportunity for its own car industry, to become exporters instead of importers. They have seen how long it took South Korea to become competitive against the established firms abroad. Electric cars are seen as a way to shorten that period.

      Yet another: China wants to cut dependence on oil. They want to become an equal global player to the US, which won’t happen as long as the US can cut their fuel lines.

      Reply
      1. CoryP

        Thank you, and Jerry B above. It does seem obvious in hindsight.

        No governments or peoples are angels, and who really wants to give up their prosperity? Or the chance for it.

        …I know I’m not suddenly biking to work though it’s feasible half the year.

        Reply
  4. Cal2

    PlutKun,

    For some time, we’ve been saving every nickle that we get. Toss them in a five gallon bucket.
    Started doing the same thing with silver coins in late 1964. Should have started earlier. A worn silver quarter, 1964 and earlier, is worth around Seven Dollars in scrap value now. Nice return on a passive investment.

    JerryB, If the rolling stock is well made and safe, what’s wrong with making it last a hundred years?

    Reply
    1. Jerry B

      Thanks Cal. ===If the rolling stock is well made and safe, what’s wrong with making it last a hundred years?==.

      Absolutely nothing is wrong with that. To prevent a novella long comment, I will try to be brief. Most of Metra Rails issues seem to be with the infrastructure the trains ride on rather than the rolling stock itself. When there are time delays it is usually due to a track or electronic issue especially during severe cold and/or rain and snow storms.

      That being said there have been numerous recent articles documenting the poor air quality in the Metra rail cars due to fumes, etc. Also the air quality in the downtown Chicago train stations, Union Station and Ogilvie, are extremely toxic.

      From what I have read the rail systems in Europe, Japan, and China are cleaner, cheaper, more modern, more efficient, and faster.

      To your point, a while back I was watching a documentary about trains in Cuba. Being the nature of Cuba and dealing with US sanctions and embargos, when they need a new part for a train they have to machine it from scratch. Their trains while old seem to be safe and well maintained if much slower due to poor infrastructure.

      Another counterpoint. As I said there is nothing wrong with making it last a hundred years BUT that might be like saying my rotary dial phone is fine when my digital smartphone allows me to do much more. Or, I miss the days of all mechanical cars but I realize the benefits of the modern, much safer, more efficient, car.

      Back to support of your comment. The environmentalist and author Wendell Berry still uses a very old hand crank washing machine of his and his wife’s clothes and air drys them.

      There is nothing wrong with things that are old as long as they are well made and safe but there is much to be said for progress. From what I have read I would take “most” of Europe’s rail systems and Japan’s and China’s too over Metra Rail any day of the week. I could be wrong but other countries do not have nearly as many rail/train accidents as the US and their trains are faster!!.

      Reply
      1. Brooklin Bridge

        I’ve used the French rail system from time to time since the early 70’s and it has always been remarkable. Now, with high speed rail, it’s nothing short of amazing for mid to fairly long distances . The one issue, in France at least, is cost. In the 70’s pretty much anyone could commute by train, now, partly because of the infrastructure and maintenance costs of high speed rail, frequent use such as commuting is considerably more restricted to those with the means unless you have a job where it is subsidized.

        I’m not familiar with thier pricing structure. Perhaps one can get commuter passes for an advantageous bulk price though from what I’ve heard it is still rather expensive.

        Reply
        1. Jerry B

          Last year my wife and I were in Door County, Wisconsin and met some people who were from London and were on vacation in the US. They lived quite a distance outside of London and mentioned that taking the train into London has become expensive as well.

          Reply
          1. Michael Fiorillo

            And in NYC, where mass transit is more developed and extensive than anywhere else in the country, the subways have been in an accelerated state of collapse, coincident with the rise of Uber, Lyft and other digital ride platforms.

            Funny, that…

            Reply
            1. Jerry B

              Hmm, mass transit into major cities around the world is getting expensive or are in an accelerated state of collapse?? An intentional way to keep the masses from the elitist, wealthy city enclaves??

              I have mentioned in comments on other posts that in the future the cities in US will look like wealthy versions of Copenhagen with walking, bicycling, and light rail, and being protected by private security, while the suburbs will look like something out of a dystopian Mad Max movie.

              Sounds like the “walls” around the cities are starting to be built already. Everything is going according to plan.

              Reply
              1. Inode_buddha

                I’ve always wondered why anyone would want to live in some festering stock pen with millions of their own kind waiting to get slaughtered. Cities are not sustainable, never have been. They can’t grow their own food.

                Reply
          2. Lambert Strether

            > taking the train into London has become expensive as well

            I believe our UK readers will agree with me when I say that UK rail is exceptionally [family blogged] up. Years ago, Dr. Beeching cut out a lot of lines they wish they had today. And privatization has taken a grim toll.

            Reply
  5. Inode_buddha

    Electric cars aren’t even on my list of things to worry about. Nickel is an extremely important mineral for some industrial processes, especially those at high temperature and or in acid environs. Prices of *many* other things can go up…

    Reply
  6. diptherio

    I’ve recently been considering the benefits of the donkey-cart. If we want actual sustainability, I think that’s closer to where we need to be than electric automobiles.

    Reply
    1. Math is Your Friend

      “I’ve recently been considering the benefits of the donkey-cart. If we want actual sustainability, I think that’s closer to where we need to be than electric automobiles.”

      Not necessarily.

      1. Methane. I suspect the metabolisms of most large grass eating animals is similar. Methane is about 86 times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat. Lots of donkeys is probably more bad than good.

      2. Donkey shit. At one donkey cart per 2 cars, you’d be knee deep in it in no time. Welcome to a major public health hazard, and I bet enough dump trucks to haul it away would be expensive and not particularly fuel efficient. Then it would have to be disposed of safely, without polluting water supplies or triggering things like blooms of toxic algae.

      3. Resource load, pollution, and greenhouse gas cost of rebuilding cities. Current cities wouldn’t work, so partial or complete rebuilding would be necessary. Cost and skilled labour needs aside, this is a project that would be measured in decades or centuries. And it would take a lot of raw materials.

      I’m pretty sure there are more issues, but that’s enough to be going on with for now.

      Reply
      1. Alex Cox

        Re. 2, in the alt universe you describe, the donkey shit will be a valuable commodity. For it is a precursor of compost.

        Reply
      2. Brooklin Bridge

        Large animals, particularly horses including donkeys, are very expensive to maintain. Veterinary expense, for instance, is high; so are housing and feed (and keeping them comfortable and well exercised is itself a full time job). They are very rewarding on the other hand and most would consider it more than worth it if you have the scratch and the time.

        Sail boats are also very expensive, but what a way to travel! (as long as you can keep water in front of you.)

        Reply
  7. Ptb

    Current nickel production is about 2mm tons. The study linked here says EV’s add 1.8mm tons demand by 2030. I.e. roughly double production in 11 years. Nickel is a common natural resource. There will surely be a price impact on the way from here to there, certainly of interest to commodities traders, but from the point of view of EV industry, it will happen.

    Reply
    1. Roger Boyd

      Definitely a tradable bubble at some point in the early-mid 2020’s, just like Lithium stocks a couple of years ago.

      Reply
  8. Steven

    It is past time for a serious discussion about the role EVs can play in transitioning to a sustainable economy. People who understand the seriousness of the threat posed by global warming do not appear to have a good grasp on the resource constraints limiting hyped “solutions” like EVs (which may have more to do with marketing new status-oriented consumer products than seriously addressing the most serious threat to a viable future there is.)

    The author of these slides –
    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ATW582uRosHotHIvPWhj64SJkt8IvkUb – is obviously aware of that threat. He mentioned he was trying to do his part by driving an EV powered from solar panels on his home. Like him I drive a solar powered EV. But I am no longer convinced I am doing the ‘right thing’. As the series of postings on this site suggest, there are most certainly resource constraints that will ultimately render POVs unsuitable as the basic mode of personal transportation – whether it is the supply of nickel, cobalt or lithium.

    Right now there is a more fundamental problem with most of the EVs currently available. It doesn’t matter how durable or maintenance free they are if, when the battery finally dies (as I believe someone said is inevitable given EV battery chemistry), it costs more to replace that battery than the car is worth? Maybe that’s why GM and company decided to ‘unkill’ the electric car. They finally figured out it was the ultimate in planned obsolescence design.

    Reply
    1. Jerry B

      Thanks Steven. ===Maybe that’s why GM and company decided to ‘unkill’ the electric car. They finally figured out it was the ultimate in planned obsolescence design.===

      Great observation and probably very accurate.

      Also probably why Toyota is investing a lot of money into hydrogen fuel cell research and technology. They realize EV is a bad bet. Not saying hydrogen fuel cell is an answer but just passing on info.

      Reply
      1. Brooklin Bridge

        What are some of the problems with hydrogen fuel cells, do you know? Cost of making hydrogen? Safe storage?

        Reply
        1. Steven

          Cost of making hydrogen? Safe storage?

          Yes, yes & no existing infrastructure. (That’s why I like the concept of rechargeable electrolytes IF it can make use of the existing fuel distribution infrastructure, i.e. gas stations, pipelines, etc?) The more basic problem as I understand it (I am no physicist!) is the 2nd law of thermodynamics. You lose bunches of the energy content every time energy changes from one form to another. It doesn’t matter what the ‘fuel’ is, whether it is natural gas – from which most hydrogen is currently made – or water.

          Someone who knows what they are talking about please chime it.

          P.S. Could you use renewable energy sources to recharge the electrolytes and if so would this be a good way to store its excesses for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing?

          Reply
        2. Jerry B

          It’s late so I will be brief and claim some lack of knowledge. From what I know the problems with hydrogen fuel cells are infrastructure i.e. converting gas station infrastructure to hydrogen fuel cells. Not easy or cheap. Also, I have read that hydrogen fuel cells are not exactly safe i.e. fires and think of a vehicle as a rolling hydrogen bomb. Also as you mention, safe storage. I may be overstating the risks. I have some stuff on my hard drive on hydrogen fuel cells but it is late. If I see you on NC I will try to add them to a comment

          Reply
        3. Tyronius

          The fundamental problem with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is efficiency; converting water into hydrogen is not a 100% efficient process- and getting the energy back out of hydrogen is between 40-60% efficient. As efficiency rises, cost and size of the fuel cell rises exponentially with current technology. By comparison, electrical generation and storage in batteries is far more efficient. Keep in mind also that once the onboard fuel cell has made the electricity, you still need a battery for demand balancing in the car and of course electric motors! So complexity is high, efficiency is low and no real benefits vs battery EV. Toyota will rediscover that the best case for hydrogen fuel cell power is stationary generation and charging the battery in the car, whether that’s at consumer scale or utility scale.

          Reply
      2. anon in so cal

        Honda’s Clarity comes in three versions, including a hydrogen fuel cell. It’s only available for lease in California. The constraints are range and availability of refueling stations.

        Reply
  9. Lambert Strether

    I would imagine one result of a materials shortage would be “adulterated” batteries. It would be nice if such batteries were less likely to catch fire, say in airplane cargo holds. Maybe we’ll get lucky!

    Reply
    1. Steven

      Or maybe just using the right battery technology for the right jobs?
      Arizona commissioner cites ‘unacceptable risks’ from lithium-ion batteries for large-scale projects
      How much lithium would be freed up if electrical utilities stopped using lithium ion batteries for storage?

      Looking down the road what are the possibilities for rechargeable electrolyte technology? Seems like this could solve a lot of problems e.g. distribution infrastructure not just for EVs but for renewable energy in general.

      Reply
      1. Tyronius

        There are lots of startup companies developing very attractive solutions for stationary grid scale electrical storage. Lithium ion lacks longevity, that’s its biggest drawback. As an aside, once lithium ion cells have worn out past their usefulness in cars, they can be repurposed as stationary storage at scrap prices and continue to serve well for years.

        https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ambri-is-still-alive-and-chasing-its-liquid-metal-battery-dreams

        Ambri is not alone, this article illuminates the challenges of this nascent industry.

        Reply
        1. Steven

          From reading earlier comments about lithium ion EV batteries I came away with the impression the basic chemistry causes charging capacity to drop drastically at the end of the standard 8 year warranty. Is this correct?

          I could probably accept degradation down to a 40 – 50% of rated charging capacity before I considered my battery “worn out past (its) usefulness in cars”. Is degradation with lithium ion batteries ultimately a function of time? Or can you push their life beyond 8 years with proper care and limited cycling?

          Reply
    2. Math is Your Friend

      “I would imagine one result of a materials shortage would be “adulterated” batteries. It would be nice if such batteries were less likely to catch fire, say in airplane cargo holds”

      The tendency to catch fire is likely ‘wired into’ the chemistry. Even small AA style lithium cells can misbehave under the wrong circumstances.

      What I might be concerned about would be a battery built with a suboptimal amount of lithium, then pushed closer to its limits in order to keep capacity up. That’s a ‘gut feel chemistry/engineering’ response, not a ‘battery technology expert’ response.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether

        > What I might be concerned about would be a battery built with a suboptimal amount of lithium, then pushed closer to its limits in order to keep capacity up. That’s a ‘gut feel chemistry/engineering’ response, not a ‘battery technology expert’ response.

        That is what I meant by “adulterated.” Thanks!

        Reply
  10. lordkoos

    I believe that a nickel is now worth more than face value. They take up too much room to hoard them though… 8^)

    Reply
    1. Colin Spenncer

      EVs will not become commonplace until 1) a battery is engineered that is made with readily available and inexpensive materials and chemistry that can be readily recycled, or 2) gas goes to $8.00/gal in the U.S. The least expensive electric car is a $25K Toyota shoebox with not great range. From 2007 to 2017 I drove a Toyota Yaris and during that time I averaged approx 40.5 mpg (with some fill-up cycles of 45 mpg and I have a log to prove it. Cost of that car (new) was out of pocket $8K after a $4K trade-in. This is the type of economics that EVs have to reach to become commonplace.

      Reply
  11. William Hunter Duncan

    In Minnesota, Chilean Antagofasta and Swiss Glencore are preparing to mine copper and nickel in water rich sulfides, with sulphuric acid as a byproduct leaching heavy metals into the waters heading to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Great Lakes.

    Twenty years of mining before they skip out with most of the profits and resources, leaving Minnesotans with the clean up, by some estimates, for 500 years.

    Reply

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