Lithium-ion batteries: Global resource demand and recycling potential until 2050

A secure raw materials supply for German cell manufacturing

In 2050, 80 per cent of all newly registered passenger cars on the road worldwide could be powered by alternative drivetrains, with the figure even rising to 100 per cent if ambitious climate targets are met. The increase in e-mobility is driving up global demand for batteries, with annual capacity requirements amounting to 6,600 gigawatt hours, according to new figures from the Oeko-Institut. It would take 220 “gigafactories” to produce batteries on this scale.

Soaring demand for lithium, cobalt and nickel

As part of the Fab4Lib research project, the Oeko-Institut has calculated the resource demand for key materials needed in the manufacturing of lithium-ion cells to 2050, basing its analysis on the most recent mobility scenarios and the latest developments in battery types and capacities. Assuming that the Paris climate targets for the mobility sector are met, Dr Matthias Buchert, a sustainable resource management expert at the Oeko-Institut, forecasts a substantial increase in demand for lithium, cobalt and nickel until 2030. If lithium-ion cells remain the storage technology of choice for e-mobility in the long term, demand will continue to grow until 2050.

Given the quantity of current known global reserves of lithium (16 million tonnes), cobalt (7.1 million tonnes) and nickel (74 million tonnes), the Oeko-Institut expert does not anticipate any scarcity of these resources. “Nevertheless, with such dynamic development of electromobility, there may be temporary bottlenecks in the supply of some raw materials,” he says.

So which segments of the electromobility value chain should be located in Europe – particularly Germany – in future? That is a political question which the European Commission and the German government must answer without delay.

A secure raw materials supply for German cell manufacturing

Battery systems are already manufactured in Europe, some of them by German companies. Currently, however, the battery cells needed for this purpose have to be bought in, mainly from Asian suppliers. European and German companies are thus dependent on external manufacturers and their supply chains. At the same time, the cell is a key determinant of the battery system’s performance, capacity and the main distinguishing feature in battery-powered vehicles.

In order to establish Germany as the leading market for electromobility, most of the value chain needs to be located here. However, cell manufacturing in Germany is dependent on a secure supply of raw materials. The recycling aspect should not be ignored in this context.

“With ambitious expansion of the recycling infrastructure for lithium-ion batteries, around 10 per cent of global electromobility-related demand for these raw materials could be met from battery recycling in 2030, increasing to as much as 40 per cent in 2050,” says Dr Buchert.

The Fab4Lib project – background

Led by TerraE Holding GmbH and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Fab4Lib research project brings together 17 research institutes and industrial companies to explore innovative solutions along the lithium-ion technology value chain, with the goal of integrating them into a large-scale battery cell production. In the medium term, TerraE aims to establish a cell manufacturing capacity of approximately 8 gigawatt hours per year in Germany.

Oeko-Institut study: “Gigafactories für Lithium-Ionen-Zellen – Rohstoffbedarf für die globale Elektromobilität bis 2050” [Gigafactories for lithium-ion cells – resource demand for global electromobility to 2050]