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CATL's Latest Battery Is A Massive Leap In The Right Direction
EVs are about to get safer, more environmentally friendly, cheaper and faster charging.
There is a “winner takes it all” race taking place in the EV world, with several heavy hitters furiously working to achieve victory. You see, the core technology driving EVs forward is battery technology. Batteries are the limiting factor for EVs, as they set how fast they can charge, how far they can go per charge, how cheap they can be built, and even their safety levels and ecological impact. So, if you want to fill the gaping hole in the market for a genuinely affordable and eco-friendly EV for the people, you need insanely good batteries. Whoever can provide these batteries is set to dominate the industry and make billions off the EV movement. I have covered several companies’ attempts at this, such as Tesla’s 4680 and BYD’s Blade Battery, but these batteries aren’t quite there yet, as they all have drawbacks. However, CATL, the world’s biggest battery supplier, just announced their contender, the Shenxing battery, and it seems perfect. So, has CATL just won the EV battery race?
Before diving into this battery’s specs, we first have to understand its chemistry. You see, most batteries we use today are lithium-ion batteries, whereas the Shenxing is a LiFePO4 battery, also known as an LFP battery. These batteries both work in a similar way, by shuttling lithium ions between the two ends of the battery to store and discharge energy, but the materials they use to achieve this are very different. LFP cells use far cheaper and more eco-friendly materials, such as iron and oxygen, whereas lithium-ion uses more expensive materials, such as nickel, and even some highly toxic and environmentally catastrophic materials like cobalt.
Now, LFP cells have existed for a while, and they have some distinctive advantages over lithium-ion. Firstly, they are super safe, can withstand enormous temperatures and even being punctured, and won’t catch fire or explode, unlike lithium-ion batteries, whose explosive tendencies have been well covered over the years. This toughness makes LFP cells far longer lasting than lithium-ion cells. In fact, there are some LFP-equipped EVs out there that have the potential to do well over 500,000 miles before needing a battery change. Whereas lithium-ion packs can need changing as early as 200,000 miles. Thanks to their use of simple materials, LFP cells tend to be far cheaper. CATL’s M3P LFP cells cost just $75 per kWh; by comparison, the average lithium-ion cells cost around $151 per kWh. This simple material list also makes LFP cells incredibly eco-friendly, far, far more so than lithium-ion. This is because they require very little damaging mining to take place, they don’t use toxic materials (unlike lithium-ion), and thanks to the stability of the battery, they are effortless to recycle (again, unlike lithium-ion).
Okay, so what’s the disadvantage? Well, LFP cells are slower charging and far less energy-dense than lithium-ion. In fact, the fastest charging, highest energy density LFP cells we have today are about and energy dense and charge as fast as lithium-ion cells from a decade ago. As such, LFP-equipped EVs simply aren’t as practical as their lithium-ion cousins.
But this is where CATL’s Shenxing battery comes in. Somehow, CATL has been able to get the best of both worlds and create an LFP cell with the performance of a top-end lithium-ion battery!
The pack is designed to give an EV a range of 435 miles, meaning the overall pack’s capacity is well over 100 kWh. So, while we don’t yet have figures on the pack’s energy density, this suggests it should be as dense as the best lithium-ion packs we have right now. But the headline figure is that in just 10 minutes of charging, the pack can get 250 miles of range! That is an insane charge rate of 1,500 miles of added range per hour of charging. For some context here, the Model 3 peaks out at around 440 miles of added charge per hour of charging. The Shenxing can achieve this as it is rated for 4C charging, meaning charging from 0–80% takes just 10 minutes, and a full charge should only take 15 minutes.
This means that with the Shenxing, recharging your EV could take the same amount of time as refuelling your combustion car.
Moreover, thanks to the temperature-resistant nature of LFP chemistry, it has a massive operational temperature window. At -10 degrees Celsius, 0–80% charge times only take 30 minutes, which is significantly less than any lithium-ion cell in those conditions.
So, how has CATL achieved such incredible specs from an LFP cell? Well, in the same way that making air flow into and out of a combustion engine with less resistance can increase power and efficiency, CATL has developed ways to make lithium flow through an LFP cell with less resistance to increase energy density and decrease charge times. This includes a fully crystallised anode material, a less dense electrolyte, a lower lithium-resistance separator, and a porous layer coating on the graphite anode to increase the number of lithium pathways in the cell.
Now, with specs and technology as good as these, you’d expect this to be a concept cell that will take years and years to eventually make it to market, if it ever makes it to market at all. While this is the case for many battery makers (I’m looking at you, Tesla), it isn’t the case here. CATL has a track record of designing their batteries to be easy to mass market, enabling them to get their technology out there faster than anyone else. This is why they are the world’s largest battery supplier, and they have carried over this ethos with the Shenxing, meaning it should be rolled out by the end of 2024.
The big question is, how much will it cost when it comes to market? So far, CATL has yet to tell us, so we can only guess. Considering none of the technology within the cell is particularly groundbreaking, and CATL has a good track record of mass-producing cheap LFP cells, I can see it costing more than normal LFP cells but still significantly less than lithium-ion. This is CATL’s chance to secure themselves a massive portion of the market, as they can massively outperform and vastly undercut their competition while still making a profit. So I can see the Shenxing selling for around $100 per kWh, or about a third more than current LFP packs and a third less than Lithium-ion cells.
So, how will this incredible battery affect the EV world? Well, CATL has some seriously close ties with some major auto manufacturers, such as Ford, Tesla, Hyundai, Kia, VW, Volvo and Toyota. Therefore, don’t be surprised if a plethora of automakers rush to use the Shenxing. In fact, there is a chance that this battery can act as a great leveller, allowing several manufacturers to offer super affordable long-range ultra-fast charging cars. In fact, I think Tesla could lose its spot as the top dog of the EV world if they don’t adopt this battery faster than anyone else or develop something equally fantastic in-house. Though considering how long it has taken to get the Cybertruck into production, I doubt they can do the latter.
So, has CATL just won the EV battery race? It’s a little too early to call, but the Shenxing definitely looks promising!
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