Lithium-ion batteries belong to the same family, they are all based on the same basic principle, but their structures are different. Understanding this basic concept will make it easier for us to discuss other aspects of electric vehicle battery technology!
In electric vehicles, the most popular battery types are NMC (Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide) and NCA (Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide), which use a combination of nickel and cobalt metals to make the batteries last longer and have greater energy storage capacity. Now, LFP module batteries are appearing in electric vehicles.
If you have read news about electric vehicles, or if you are considering buying a Ford or Tesla model this year, you will definitely see the letters "L", "F", and "P". An LFP module battery refers to a lithium iron phosphate battery, which is a type of battery composition that is very stable but has slightly lower energy density. This means that an LFP battery of the same size stores slightly less energy than NMC or NCA batteries. So why is the entire industry pushing for the use of LFP module batteries? Are all electric vehicles undergoing this change, or are there specific use cases that are suitable for a certain battery chemistry?
The LFP battery news in 2021 and 2022 has mainly focused on Tesla, which has started using LFP modules in its standard model vehicles. This change started with the SR model produced in China and will enter the US market in 2022. The big news for 2023 is that Ford is investing in and planning to switch to LFP module batteries for the European Mustang Mach-E and partially for the F-150 market in 2024.
The main arguments for using LFP batteries usually revolve around materials supply and cost. Since electric vehicles have gained attention, there has been significant and valid concern about the supply of cobalt, as cobalt is a rare earth metal. Switching to LFP batteries means that battery manufacturers do not rely on cobalt, which is important for business continuity.
Recently, there have been market supply shortages of nickel and aluminum, both of which are export products of Russia. Even before the Russia-Ukraine conflict, companies have already felt the impact of relying on price-sensitive and sometimes hostile suppliers for materials. Phosphate replaces nickel and aluminum in LFP batteries, and the procurement of phosphate materials is easier and currently more reliable in terms of price. This means that LFP module batteries are much cheaper than cobalt-based batteries. Ford sees affordable materials as a key driving factor for transformation, as cost savings will allow them to offer lower prices to consumers.
Indeed, the energy density of LFP batteries is not as high as NCM, but they can be charged to 100% every day. Lithium batteries with NCA and NMC compositions have to limit charging to 80-85% to maintain health. Through calculations, the daily range of LFP batteries is longer.
Longer cycle life:
Some studies show that the cycle life of LFP batteries is 2 to 4 times longer than NMC batteries. The higher cycle life is also one of the reasons why Tesla recommends charging to 100%: on LFP batteries, you won't even notice any additional battery degradation.
Safety of electric vehicle batteries:
LFP module batteries have a higher threshold for heat, which is the cause of thermal runaway or battery fires. For LFP batteries, the thermal runaway temperature is 270 degrees Celsius, while for NMC it is 210 degrees and for NCA it is 150 degrees. Although the thermal management of cars should protect the batteries from reaching such high temperatures, LFP batteries do add an extra layer of protection.