Will S. Korea beat China in EV battery market?

Posted on : 2021-06-07 17:01 KST Modified on : 2021-06-07 17:01 KST
S. Korean batteries boast better performance but are not as affordable as Chinese ones
(provided by Tesla)
(provided by Tesla)

The Chinese electric vehicle (EV) battery maker CATL plans to build a new large-scale factory in Shanghai, Reuters reported. It’s part of a strategy to create a battery production base near the US EV company Tesla’s factory in Shanghai to dominate supplies to Tesla.

New EV battery products developed by South Korean and Chinese companies are poised to flood the market soon. So what are the characteristics — and the respective strengths and weaknesses — of the different makers of EV batteries, which are being called the “next semiconductors”?

Why are EV batteries so important?

The engine is the crucial part of the existing internal combustion engine vehicles, which run on gasoline or diesel. In EVs, the battery plays this engine role.

An EV battery isn’t just a “canister” storing electricity. It directly controls the performance, including the EV’s power and driving distance. For a vehicle to run farther with a faster-turning motor, it needs to have a highly efficient battery that produces more electrical energy over the same amount of time.

Who is on top right now?

According to the EV market research firm SNE Research, China’s CATL was the top-ranked company in terms of global EV battery market share for the months of January to April 2021. In terms of capacity, around one in every three EVs sold over that period had a CATL battery in it.

Among Korean companies, LG Energy Solution ranked with 22% market share, Samsung SDI was fifth with a 5% share, and SK Innovation was sixth with a 5% share. The three Korean companies have a combined market share roughly on par with CATL.

What are the differences between Korean and Chinese batteries?

In EV batteries, capacity and performance are dictated by the materials added to the cathode (+) where the lithium is. Korean batteries are referred to as “ternary lithium batteries,” as they are chiefly produced by adding nickel, cobalt and manganese to the cathode.

Chinese companies like CATL typically produce iron phosphate batteries, which use cheaper iron and phosphorus instead of pricier cobalt and nickel.

In EV batteries, capacity increases with the amount of nickel. Because of this, Chinese batteries are seen as being more affordable but having less capacity, while Korean ones are seen as being more expensive than the Chinese ones but also performing better.

Pouch-shaped batteries developed by LG Energy Solution
Pouch-shaped batteries developed by LG Energy Solution
What are the differences among the LG, Samsung and SK batteries?

All three companies are developing new ternary lithium batteries with a higher proportion of nickel and a lower proportion of cobalt. The specific materials used differ slightly among the companies.

During the second half of this year, LG plans to launch an NCMA battery, which includes aluminum added to a nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) battery. Over the same period, Samsung is releasing an NCA battery, which adds aluminum and omits manganese. SK is planning mass production next year for NCM 9-1/2-1/2 batteries, which increase the proportion of nickel in the cathode to around 90% while reducing the proportions of cobalt and manganese to 5% each.

What all three of them have in common is the fact that they increase performance by boosting the amount of nickel in the battery’s cathode to around 90%. In contrast, China’s CATL is reportedly planning to present a sodium-ion battery next month, which uses the sodium in seawater — a material with similar properties to costly lithium. Only time will tell whether it can actually be produced.

What is an “all-solid-state battery”?

Referred to as the “dream battery,” an all-solid-state battery is one in which the liquid electrolytes that serve as a pathway for the lithium ions are converted entirely into a solid-state. Advantages of using a solid electrolyte include sidestepping the risk of the electrolyte leaking from the battery while increasing the battery’s capacity by obviating the need for a membrane to prevent contact between the cathode and anode. Reports indicate that commercialization is still a long way off.

People talk about Korea’s “heavy reliance” on China. What does that mean?

Most of the raw materials in the EV batteries produced by Korean companies come from China. According to the International Energy Agency, 2019 figures showed Australia and Chile accounting for 74% of the total production of lithium, the key material in the batteries, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounted for 69% of cobalt production and Indonesia accounted for 33% of nickel production.

The numbers point to heavy dependence on particular countries for certain materials. China is seen as especially dominant in the EV battery market because most of these minerals undergo processing there.

By Park Jong-o, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles