The fast-growing battery market

With the rapid development in electrification of the transport sector and the increasing need for energy storage systems, the demand of batteries is surging. A key component of these batteries is the anode, where graphite plays the most important role today, but silicon has a bright future.

The forecast for 2030, it is assumed that anything between 22% to 30% of the new sale of light vehicles will be electric. However, we know that the pace of fast growing
markets tends to be underestimated, like we have seen in solar power. The electricity system around the world is changing significantly through installation of wind and
solar. In Europe, US and China, wind and solar constitute the majority of new electricity generation capacity. Storage and batteries is essential to balance supply and demand.

Li-ion battery, average demand forcast

Li-ion battery, average demand forcast

An example of the growing and somewhat unforeseen demand of electrical vehicles (EVs) is the penetration of electrical buses in China. Every five weeks more than 9000 buses enter the market in China, which is more than the whole London bus fleet. Some cities in China have decided that all new taxis and buses must be electric from 2020.

Elkem's solution

The group believe that Elkem is uniquely positioned to supply solutions to the battery industry and the EV market. The total lithium-ion battery market is estimated to grow from around 120 GWh in 2017 to more than 800 GWh in 2025.

Elkem already provides products to the automotive industry and increasingly into the EV market. With a robust cost structure, Elkem is combing opportunities in our division’s competences, meeting today’s challenges and the opportunities of tomorrow. The current focus for Elkem is within the areas of graphite for anodes, silicon for tomorrow’s anodes and silicone solutions for battery packs and modules and various other applications in electric vehicles.

Increase energy storage in batteries

Elkem produces both graphite and silicon, two key products in battery storage. The main advantage of graphite is that it is stable and has a proven performance in lithium-ion batteries. However, with current materials we are close to the theoretical storage capacity of graphite and there is thus not room for major improvements in the energy density on the anode side. In this respect, silicon can provide a solution. Silicon has around ten times higher theoretical storage capacity than graphite. However, the challenge with a silicon based anode is to handle the expansion during charging, which is around 300%, and the disintegration during discharge, that cause a poor cycle performance and limited battery life.

Combining graphite and silicon provides a great opportunity, as we already produce both materials. The aim is to produce composites of graphite and silicon, and increase
the amount of silicon gradually. A higher silicon content increases the energy density. This allows a battery producer to either store more energy in the same volume, or store the same amount of energy, but in a smaller space. More research is needed to overcome the challenges related to silicon containing anodes. Elkem has a dedicated team working on this.

Protecting the battery with silicones

In addition to this project, our silicones division provides protection and thermal management materials for battery packs and for cables to the battery. The management of the heat in battery modules, which is the heart of the electric vehicle, is key for the performance, reliability, safety, life and cost of these modules. To address this challenge, Elkem develops customised solutions according to the design of the battery pack and cells used (cylindrical, pouch or prismatic) based on two technologies:

  • Our foam range to create thermal insulation of each cell and avoid the overheating propagation to other cells with a light weight advantage.
  • Our thermally conductive materials to dissipate the heat from the cell with additional performance like self-adhesion.

In 2018 these products generated reveneus of more than EUR 30 million.

Elkem in the battery value chain