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How 3 metals could drive the EV revolution

E&Enews - The acronym "NMC" may be the key to a global competition to push down the cost of lithium-ion batteries, and thus the key to the future of electric vehicles.

The letters stand for compounds of nickel, manganese and cobalt, three elements that are vital ingredients in the most common of today's EV batteries. Combined into a complex lattice structure, they form the battery's positive electrode where lithium ions gather as the battery delivers its power.

Today, scientists on three continents are chasing the winning combination of the three components to try to hit a performance grand slam of lower costs, lighter weight, faster charging and safety. The next round in the NMC technology evolution looks to be of pivotal importance to a possible EV takeoff in the coming decade, analysts say. The goal: Enable EVs to beat the sticker prices of conventional gasoline cars, a crucial milestone for vehicle electrification to cut deeply into greenhouse gas emissions.

"What is really driving down costs in the last couple of years is changes in the [NMC] chemistry," said James Frith, head of energy storage for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"Most of the [vehicle] batteries out there are some combination" of the three elements, said Haresh Kamath, senior program manager for the Electric Power Research Institute, speaking of the NMC chemistry. Tesla Inc.'s battery design has been the main exception, but it filed a patent at the end of last year for an advanced NMC battery of its own.

The next generation of EV batteries will rely heavily on nickel, with the shorthand name NMC 811, combining eight parts of nickel to one each of manganese and cobalt.

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