PROJECTIONS of the increasing abundance of EVs, including hybrids, plug-ins and full electric, are wide ranging. Wood Mackenzie’s forecast is for sales of passenger EVs to increase from 2.4 million in 2016 to approximately 14.2 million in 2025. In battery capacity terms, this is the equivalent of an increase from 26 GWh to 215 GWh over the same period.

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Wood Mackenzie estimates that nickel demand in EV batteries will increase from to an estimated 220,000 tonnes in 2025.

Most of the batteries generating this power are expected to be based on nickel-containing chemistries.

There are two basic types of nickel containing EV batteries: nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium ion (Li-ion). NiMH has long been the preferred battery type in hybrid EVs, although Wood Mackenzie expects it to be largely replaced by Li-ion chemistries by 2025. Not all Li-ion variants contain nickel (for example, lithium iron phosphate (LFP)), but the present consensus is that NCM (NiCoMn) and NCA (NiCoAl) will remain the dominant formulations for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, Wood Mackenzie believes that the portion of nickel in NCM batteries will increase, partly in response to the impact of high cobalt prices on cost, but also because of the improved energy density nickel imparts. Thus, the preference looks set to evolve from NCM 111 (20% nickel), to NCM 523 or 622 (30-36%). NCM 811(48%) is under development although the rigours of testing and certification indicate that commercial use is no closer than 3-5 years away.

There is a wide range of assumptions that have to be made in order to estimate how much nickel could be consumed in EV batteries by 2025. These include predictions of EV sales both in terms of number and vehicle type, the relative shares of the different battery types used by the fleet and the average battery capacity of each vehicle type.

Using this top down approach, Wood Mackenzie estimates that nickel demand in EV batteries increases from about 40,000 tonnes in 2016 to an estimated 220,000 in 2025. When other battery applications are included, such as consumer electronics and energy storage, this figure increases to 275,000 tonnes of nickel demand in 2025, approximately 12% of 2025 global supply.

The outlook for nickel is, therefore, one of deepening deficits, falling stocks and rising prices.

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