Managing the EV nickel pickle – by Andrew Digges and Steven Brown (Petroleum Economist – December 15, 2021)

Global plans for decarbonisation are driving massive growth in electric vehicle uptake, but production of key battery metal comes with a problematic carbon footprint of its own

While there is no doubt that electric vehicles (EVs) will play a significant role in our global transition to net zero, the sector is facing a tricky conundrum that must be resolved: global decarbonisation will depend on an extensive transition across the world to the use of EVs, and the batteries that EVs use will require large volumes of refined nickel.

However, the mining and refining of nickel is itself affected by a number of important ESG issues, including a large carbon footprint.

The IEA’s latest report on the global EV outlook indicates there were just over 10mn light-duty EVs on the world’s roads in 2020. The IEA forecasts there will be 137mn EVs by 2030 (based on analysis of actual commitments and action by states) or more than 200mn based on its Sustainable Development Scenario.

Lithium-ion batteries with nickel-rich cathodes remain the preferred choice for light and high-performance vehicles, given they offer higher energy density and greater storage capacity at a lower cost. All this means there is going to be exponential growth in the demand for refined nickel up to 2030 and beyond.

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