Looking for the next winners in the electric vehicle supply chain

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Everyone is looking for new ways to integrate the global electric vehicle value chain. It’s not just the auto makers or the battery makers anymore, it’s the whole gamut of parts that make up batteries – chemicals that make up every component to the wiring and everything in between. With all the fuss around battery technology, however, it’s hard to scour the futuristic bets to find the most realistic. There is one country that could prove to be a happy hunting ground: South Korea.

While the companies there took a rapid lead in advanced electric vehicle battery technology, they were quickly overtaken, mainly by Chinese competitors who surpassed them in scale and size. Companies like LG Energy Solution from LG Chem Ltd. and Samsung SDI Co. have all shown promise, but their global market share has declined. They may be ready for a comeback.

Scientists have spent decades working to improve lithium-ion car batteries while reducing their cost. In South Korea, they are now focusing on all materials that can be used in various parts of a power supply by playing with existing chemicals and battery architecture.

Even with 90% nickel batteries – the latest attempt to use a high nickel content to increase lifespan – recently showing a way to market (by South Korean company SK Innovation Co.), progress additional seem limited and the goal of mass electrification remains distant. . Indeed, these batteries, which represent about 50% of the cost of an electric car, remain too expensive due to the production processes, expensive or hard to find materials and the fact that we do not master the chemistry to make them totally. sure. . Manufacturers must constantly play on competing priorities such as size for energy density or range for safety.

To solve these pressing problems, companies have tended to look beyond what lies ahead and gamble ambitiously on untested technologies that could work in theory, but only at some point in the future.

There is all kinds of research on more distant technologies, but so far the development of viable power supplies has focused on the material of the cathode, or electrode, which accounts for around 40% of the cost. materials. In doing so, they focused on increasing the nickel content of the most promising nickel-manganese-cobalt, or NMC, batteries in terms of energy density. These can take cars further afield, but their safety is not guaranteed and the price has not come down enough to make green cars more affordable than traditional ones.

This is where the other electrode comes in, or the anode (1), the component that South Korean companies have pounced on. This part is mainly in graphite. As cathodes reach their energy density limits, chemists are now looking for materials that could make the anode more efficient. This will determine key factors for electric cars, like how quickly they can be charged, and make battery technology more convenient for cars that sooner or later we will all have to drive.

For the next realistic step towards a new generation of power supplies, it’s worth considering the materials that will strengthen the anodes. Silicon-based compounds have become at the heart of this research because this material can capture more lithium ions than graphite, and it is the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, note analysts at Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong Ltd.

While silicon still has problems when used in batteries, companies like South Korea’s Daejoo Electronic Materials Co., which supplies the battery unit for chemical giant LG Chem, LG Energy Solution, have developed advanced composites to make the technology more usable. They are now supplying batteries to the electric Taycan of Porsche Automobil Holding SE. Another company, Hansol Chemical Co., has invested 85 billion Korean won ($ 71.6 million) to build factories to manufacture silicon-carbon anodes. This shows that there are other realistic paths to electrification besides the trade-offs and challenges that manufacturers currently face.

South Korean battery makers run the risk of being left behind when it comes to advancing the technology, as they did last time around. Ultimately, as daunting as it may be to enter basic battery science, this is where real progress is likely to happen. And businesses across the country seem to know it.

(1) When a battery is charged and discharged, lithium ions move between the cathode and the anode.

Anjani Trivedi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies in Asia. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.

This story was posted from an agency feed with no text editing. Only the title has been changed.

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