Automakers this summer touted plans to offer more electric vehicles, with Mercedes-Benz announcing it will spend $1 billion to add a battery factory to its plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Ford is investing $4.5 billion in electric vehicle production, Volkswagen has promised 30 electrified models, and Volvo plans to go all electric or hybrid by 2019. Even Porsche will offer a battery-powered sports sedan called Mission E in 2020.
Automakers expect to sell 20 million all-electric vehicles in 2030, according to conservative estimates, prompting questions about where the raw materials will come from to make all of those batteries.
Thinking about battery demand requires a new vocabulary. When it comes to liquid fuels, we talk about millions of barrels of crude oil. Battery demand is measured in gigawatt-hours of storage capacity.
Demand for electric vehicle batteries is expected to grow from 15.9 gigawatt-hours in 2015 to 93.1 gigawatt-hours by 2024, according to Navigant Research, a consulting firm specializing in energy technology.
The critical elements in lithium ion batteries, the most commonly used, include graphite, cobalt, nickel, manganese and lithium, of course. The hardest to get, and therefore the most valuable, are cobalt, lithium and graphite.