EV Batteries: The Next Victim of High Commodity Prices?

Ever-cheaper batteries over the past decade have made electric vehicles more price-competitive. But rising demand for EVs could now disrupt that trend. The race to secure key materials will become more crucial.

Prices of battery materials have skyrocketed this year as EV demand jumps. Prices of lithium carbonate, used in cathodes, have doubled year-to-date, according to research firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Prices for cobalt hydroxide, which boosts energy density and battery life, have risen more than 40%.

The pandemic has brought disruption, but the real problem is more fundamental, especially in lithium. “The oversupply that crashed prices from mid-2018 to mid-2020 caused multiple projects to be put on care and maintenance with other newer projects stalled,” says Scott Yarham, who leads battery-metals pricing at S&P Global Platts.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence expects most battery raw-material markets to remain tight this decade. And it forecasts that the lithium market will fall into deficit in 2022. Most supply-chain contracts are “cost pass through,” which means EV manufacturers have to bear cost increases, says Caspar Rawles, head of price and data assessments at Benchmark. But battery makers still face margin pressure. Auto makers will push back when they can by playing different battery suppliers off one another.

… (by Jacky Wong WSJ.com)

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