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New Upgrade of Lithium-ion Battery Materials

Abstract: Focusing on ternary cathode materials, high nickel, high voltage, and single crystal become the trend.

Ternary cathode materials are constantly being upgraded.
The new energy market has ushered in an inflection point, and the penetration rate of electric vehicles has continued to increase. According to data from the China Automobile Association, from January to June 2022, the cumulative production of new energy vehicles in my country was 2.661 million, the sales volume was 2.6 million, an increase of 1.2 times year-on-year, and the market penetration rate reached 21.6%.

Under the favorable market situation, the price of raw materials for lithium batteries has jumped, the supply is in short supply, and higher requirements have been placed on the battery life of automobiles. Therefore, the production of batteries with higher energy density, higher safety performance, and lower cost has become the key to “breaking the game”.

As the mainstream choice in the mid-to-high-end electric vehicle market, ternary batteries have huge market demand. To meet higher market expectations, material technology upgrades and process innovations are required.

1. The penetration of electrification accelerates, and the ternary material market is improving for a long time.

Under the new cycle of the industry, the sales of new energy vehicles have risen sharply. From January to June 2022, the production and sales of domestic new energy vehicles exceeded 2.6 million units, and the completion situation exceeded expectations.

Benefiting from the rapid advancement of vehicle electrification, the installed capacity of power batteries has also increased simultaneously. GGII data shows that from January to June 2022, the installed capacity of domestic power batteries is about 100.24GWh, a year-on-year increase of 116%. In the first half of the year, except for April-May, which was affected by the epidemic control, the year-on-year growth rate for the rest of the months more than doubled.

Among them, ternary batteries are favored by the market due to their high energy density. From January to June 2022, the domestic installed capacity of ternary power batteries is about 44.93GWh, a year-on-year increase of 55%, accounting for 45% of the total installed capacity.

Looking overseas, the installed capacity of power batteries in the European market has always been dominated by ternary power batteries. Data shows that from January to November 2021, the installed capacity of ternary power batteries in Europe will reach 138.2 GWh, accounting for 95.4% of the total installed capacity of power batteries in Europe.

The market demand for ternary batteries at home and abroad continues to rise, driving a substantial increase in shipments of ternary cathode materials. According to the calculation that a 1GWh power battery needs 1500-1800 tons of ternary materials, only 44.93GWh in the first half of 2022 will drive 67,000-81,000 tons of ternary cathode materials.

2. Technology iteration, “two high and one single” to achieve cost reduction and efficiency increase

Under the new industry cycle, the requirements for battery energy density and safety performance are becoming more and more stringent. At the same time, with the jump in the price of lithium battery raw materials, the call for cost reduction and efficiency enhancement is increasing, forcing the innovation of the lithium battery material system.
Focusing on ternary cathode materials, high nickel, high voltage, and single crystallization have become the trend.

2.1 High nickel: 8-series ternary grows rapidly, and ultra-high nickel becomes the future direction
Energy density requirements are getting higher and higher, and the trend of high nickelization of domestic and foreign models is becoming more and more obvious.

Currently, including Model 3/Y, Peugeot e-208, Hyundai Kona, Volkswagen ID series, BMW IX3/ X1, Mercedes-Benz EQ series, NIO ES6, Xiaopeng P7, Nezha U, AIWAYS U5, GAC AionV, AION LX The listed models such as PLUS and Geely Geometry A are equipped with high-nickel batteries. Driven by this, shipments of high-nickel ternary materials have grown rapidly.

GGII statistics show that the global high-nickel ternary shipments in 2021 will be 309,000 tons, a year-on-year increase of 120.71%, accounting for 41.76% of the total shipments of ternary cathode materials; among them, China’s high-nickel (8 series and above) three Element materials shipped 170,000 tons, a year-on-year increase of 181%.

As the mainstream choice for high-end models of domestic and foreign OEMs, the application of high-nickel ternary batteries is accelerating. According to the incomplete statistics of Gaogong lithium batteries, including BMW i3, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Audi Q4 e-tron, Cadillac LYRIQ, Chevrolet Bolt EUV, GAC Toyota 2022 iA5, Volkswagen 2022 ID.4 CROZZ, Lucid Air, Grohe HiPhi X, Zhiji Domestic and foreign mid-to-high-end models such as the L7 will be launched in 2022.

With the further decline in the cost of high-nickel batteries in the later period and the acceleration of the industrialization of solid-state batteries, it is expected that high-nickel cathode materials will maintain a rapid growth trend in the next 10 years, and global shipments are expected to reach more than 5 million tons by 2030.

In response to this, cathode material companies such as Rongbai Technology, Xiamen Tungsten New Energy, and Long-term Lithium Technology have continued to accelerate the research and development of high-nickel ternary materials and have made breakthroughs.

For example, Rongbai Technology completed the development and pilot test of the first-generation NCM811 in 2016, achieved mass production in 2017, and achieved rapid growth in shipments. In order to further enhance market competitiveness, Rongbai Technology is also developing next-generation ultra-high nickel cathode products to further reduce the watt-hour cost of high-nickel materials and improve energy density. At present, the company’s second-generation Ni90 system is under development and has entered the stage of mass production. The third-generation Ni96 system is being developed in cooperation with customers and is expected to achieve small-scale mass production this year.

In addition, the top battery companies in China, Japan, and South Korea will also target the next generation of batteries, aiming at high nickel batteries or solid-state batteries with a nickel content of more than 90% or even completely free of cobalt, and formulate a relatively clear mass production schedule. This means that ultra-high nickel ternary cathode materials will become the future development direction.

2.2 High voltage: superior comprehensive performance and accelerated application

The high-voltage route is based on the medium-nickel ternary material. By increasing its voltage platform, the cathode material can release more lithium ions at a higher voltage, thereby achieving higher specific capacity and average discharge voltage, thereby improving energy density. the goal of. Judging from the main products currently in practical application, the actual energy density of 735.15Wh/kg of high-voltage Ni6 series typical products (Ni65) is close to 739.32Wh/kg of Ni8 series typical products.

At present, high-voltage materials are based on medium-nickel ternary materials, which are superior to high-nickel ternary materials in terms of raw materials, production processes, and processing costs; at the same time, due to the relatively low nickel content of high-voltage materials, the production process is not as good as high-nickel ternary materials. The ternary is complex, so the high-voltage cathode material can improve the energy density while also improving safety.

With its superior comprehensive performance, the market for high-voltage ternary materials has gradually opened up, and major cathode manufacturers and some battery companies have entered this field and accelerated its application.

For example, in terms of cathode manufacturers, Xiamen Tungsten New Energy has developed a new 4.4V high-voltage 6-series ternary material, which has been successfully applied to electric vehicles with a cruising range of more than 1,000 kilometers; long-term lithium high-voltage 4.3V and 4.35V ternary cathodes The material has been used in the field of power batteries in batches, and the 4.4V ternary cathode material has been gradually applied in the field of digital batteries.

In terms of battery manufacturers, China Innovation Aviation will be the first in the world to use high-voltage ternary battery material technology to mass-produce 590 module batteries in 2020, and it will be installed on the Aion-LX model designed by the main customer GAC Aion; this year, its high-voltage battery The fast-charging ternary lithium battery will also be installed on the Smart Elf #1. Its energy density reaches an industry-leading level of over 250Wh/kg. It supports 150kW super fast charging, 100kW fast charging, and 7.2kW slow charging, and maintains 80% of the capacity. Under the premise, it can support a service life of 10 years and 300,000 kilometers.

It is worth noting that the current high-voltage ternary cathode materials still face a series of challenges. Under high voltage, due to a large number of lithium ions, the ternary cathode material is prone to a series of problems such as poor crystal structure stability, ion mixing, irreversible phase transition, etc., resulting in short battery cycle life, low thermal stability, electrolyte consumption, and other macroscopic problems. Battery failure behavior.

It is necessary to suppress the above series of problems by doping metal ions, constructing artificial coating layers, matching high-voltage electrolytes and additives, etc.

2.3 Monocrystalline: Two development routes are in parallel, and the market demand is growing rapidly

Compared with conventional polycrystalline ternary materials agglomerated by secondary particles, single crystal materials have the properties of higher load voltage, longer cycle life, and higher safety. It has two development routes.

One is the medium and low nickel single crystal route. Large single crystal products have higher load voltage, and some domestic low- and medium-nickel single-crystal materials can be equivalent to polycrystalline high-nickel energy density through high voltage. Products such as Ni55, NCM613 and other products have lower precious metal content, and the products meet the energy density and have higher energy density. Value for money.

The second is the high nickel single crystal route. The ternary material has poor stability in the high nickel environment, and the single crystal has stable chemical properties and better cycle performance. The corresponding doping can improve the safety performance of the high nickel ternary material.

With the gradual introduction of downstream power battery companies, the market demand for single crystal ternary materials has grown rapidly. Data shows that in Q1 2022, the output of single crystals will reach 49,000 tons, accounting for 38.5%. It is expected that the market share of domestic single crystal ternary materials is expected to rise to more than 40% in 2022.

Specifically, in Q1 of 2022, in the ternary materials of medium nickel series 5 and medium and high nickel series 6, the proportion of single crystal material systems exceeds 50%; in Q1 2022, the proportion of single crystal high nickel series 8 series ternary materials has increased to 13.5%.

It is worth mentioning that the upgrading of ternary cathode materials towards high nickel, high pressure, and single crystallization not only brings energy density, safety performance improvement, and cost reduction but also increases the difficulty of the material production process. Higher requirements have been put forward in terms of precursors, doping, coating, and material system understanding.

Under this circumstance, the field of ternary materials will accelerate the reshuffle, and the market may be restructured. Enterprises with relevant technical reserves are expected to stand out, while the remaining enterprises may be eliminated by the market, and the industry competition pattern will gradually become more centralized.

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