Find the new batteries that will unlock the cheap electric vehicles

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“This is a big deal,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said at a press conference announcing the plant’s plans. Expanding battery options will allow Ford to “build more EVs faster and ultimately make them more affordable,” said Ford CEO Bill Ford.

Also known as lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP) batteries, the type produced at the new plant is a low-cost alternative to the nickel- and cobalt-containing batteries currently used in most electric vehicles in the US and Europe. As the technology gains popularity in China, Ford’s factory, built in partnership with Chinese battery giant CATL, is gaining ground in the West. By reducing costs, increasing charging speed and extending lifespan, LFP batteries help expand EV options for drivers.

Lithium-ion batteries all contain lithium, which helps to store it in a part of the battery called the cathode. But lithium doesn’t do this job alone: ​​it’s joined by other materials in the cathode.

The most common type of cathode in vehicles today contains nickel, manganese and cobalt in addition to lithium. Some automakers, like Tesla, use a different cathode chemistry made of nickel, cobalt, and aluminum. Both of these types of cathodes rose to popularity in part because of their high energy density, meaning the batteries would be smaller and lighter than those that could store the same amount of energy.

While those two are the default choices for cathodes in EV batteries, the old chemistry, lithium iron phosphate, has made a comeback in the last few years due to booming growth in China.

These metal-containing batteries will be about 20% cheaper than other lithium-ion batteries of the same capacity today. This is because LFP does not contain cobalt or nickel, precious metals that have seen significant price increases in recent years. Battery makers are working to reduce cobalt content as metal extraction is associated with particularly harmful working conditions.

Making cathodes that are free of cobalt and nickel can help automakers cut costs, and some have begun changing the battery chemistry used in vehicles sold in the US. Tesla today imports LFP cells from China for some models, including the Model 3. Ford previously announced that it would begin using the technology in the Mac-E in 2023 and the F-150 Lightning in 2024.

At the newly announced plant, Ford will be the first automaker to manufacture LFP batteries in the US. The new facility, which will use technology from CATL, could help launch LFP production on a larger scale in the US. “It’s a critical point for the North American manufacturing landscape,” he says. Evelina StokowBattery technology analyst at BloombergNEF, an energy-focused research firm.



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