As discussed, one of the things that keeps electric vehicles expensive, particularly with regard to their range per charge, is the price of lithium-ion battery packs.
Chinese automaker BYD already produced a number of electric vehicles, even electric buses, and says it will triple its capacity in the next three years, putting it just about the same pace as the Tesla gigafactory, which is currently under construction in Nevada. When the Tesla lithium-ion battery factory is complete, by 2020, production is expected to reach 35 GWh/year (gigawatt-hours capacity per year), which would effectively double world production numbers in 2013.
Currently, BYD’s lithium-ion battery production is at 4 GWh/year, with plans to increase by 6 GWh, making for 10 GWh/year by the end of the year. BYD executives say that they can keep up this pace, adding 6 GWh/year production capacity each year, which would put it at 34 GWh/year by 2020.
Considering the multiple applications of the lithium-ion battery, from smartphones to smartgrids, and from electric cars to electric buses, increasing production will certainly drive down prices. In turn, decreased lithium-ion battery prices will improve electric vehicle adoption, renewable energy implementation, and more-efficient homes and businesses.
My only concern in all of this, not to mention other lithium-ion production facilities, may have to do with the extraction of graphite, a major component in lithium-ion battery production. Unregulated graphite mines have already been linked to so-called “graphite rain” in China, adding to an already-huge air quality problem in the country.
Just for comparison, the Nissan Leaf’s 24 kWh lithium-ion battery contains about 110 lb of graphite, which means that increasing BYD’s production, by 6 GWh/year for the next three years, will put a lot of demand on graphite mines. When mining companies are asked to supply the demand for an additional 14 tons of flake graphite each year, just counting BYD’s increased production rates, what are mining companies going to go for, profits or environmentally-friendly mining practices? Will graphite rain become an even bigger problem?