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What Are Electric Car Batteries Made Of?

A modern EV’s battery pack is poles apart from the small lead acid battery that a combustion-engined car uses to start up and power ancillary electrical systems like lights or your radio.

The batteries in an electric car are, instead, scaled up versions of the rechargeable lithium-ion versions found in a smartphone or laptop. Lithium-ion is chosen because it is a good combination of being relatively lightweight, quick to charge, energy dense and affordable to produce at scale.

The most important elements within a lithium-ion battery are the minerals and metals that are used to make up the cathodes and anodes in the battery cells. These are critical ‘posts’ within each cell that allow the current to flow in and out as required.

Lithium

A mined mineral used in all EV batteries currently in production is normally the core constituent of the battery cathode.

Nickel

Mined worldwide and widely used in many industries, especially the making of batteries. Nickel has a high energy density so it helps to extend battery range.

Cobalt

The Democratic Republic of Congo produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s cobalt. It’s combined with nickel to make up the cathode in many batteries.

Manganese

Can be used in batteries instead of cobalt. It’s the fourth most used metal in manufacturing and is low-cost.

Graphite

The second most commonly used component in batteries in terms of volume and weight. It’s used to make the anode in batteries.

So How Is A Battery Put Together?

Each battery cell operates in isolation as the primary provider of charge and storage in a rechargeable battery. You’d probably recognise a cell if it was removed from the battery pack. On its own many resemble the sort of battery you’d pop in a torch or portable radio.

But a single cell simply doesn’t pack enough power to drive an EV, so they are grouped together into ‘modules’ that allow them to be carefully stacked to ensure both strength and sufficient cooling.

The full battery pack is then created by connecting multiple modules within an incredibly strong outer case, designed to route a thermal cooling system around the modules and still be rigid enough to withstand crash impacts.

The number of cells found in an EV can vary hugely, from hundreds to even thousands of individual cells, depending on the expected range of the vehicle and the designated power output of each cell. But whether you’re going to be driving a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf, the principle of cell into module into battery pack is the same.

What Does The Future Hold For EV Battery Tech?

The call for ever-faster charging and ever-further range has led battery makers to explore a range of new technologies for battery development.

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes (admittedly on very high-powered chargers) have been produced in a factory for the first time. These new lithium-ion batteries, developed by an Israeli company, StoreDot, are unlikely to come to market before 2025, but the developers believe that by then they will be able to offer 100 miles of charge in a handful of minutes using existing charging infrastructure.

The StoreDot battery replaces its graphite anode with advanced semiconductor nanoparticles which allow for a much faster transfer of ions during charging.

Scientists predict that, because of their much higher density, solid state batteries will be able to hold up to twice the charge of a wet battery. That could, in theory, double the range of EVs to between 400-600 miles on a single charge.

Want to know more? Take a look at our in-depth guide on everything you need to know about charging electric cars.

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