Nickel. We don't really need much more of it (
by Dan Burns
May 10, 2023, 9:00 AM

More and more batteries don’t need much metal

An oft-claimed rationale for sulfide mining in Minnesota is the supposed crisis-level need for new sources of “strategic metals.” In particular, these days, more, more, and yet more nickel.

But today’s LFP batteries are nearly as energy dense as lithium-ion batteries were just a few years ago. Things are moving quickly in battery development. The sodium-ion batteries available today will likely improve just as quickly.

On the other hand, sodium batteries are much less affected by low temperatures and appear to be able to handle more charge/discharge cycles than lithium-ion batteries. The latest sodium batteries do not require scarce materials like cobalt and nickel. Both CATL and BYD say they are about to introduce EV battery packs that have a mix of lithium-ion and sodium-ion cells. The thinking is the sodium cells will address the low temperature performance issue and the lithium cells will take care of the need for good performance in daily driving.

At the Shanghai auto show (in April), CATL said its sodium-ion batteries will be installed in the Chery iCAR due to go on sale by the end of this year, according to CnEVPost. BYD sources say its sodium-ion battery will also be in mass production in the second half of the year beginning with the Seagull. BYD introduced the Seagull in Shanghai this week.

Italics mine. Another claim is that we just gotta have sulfide mining for the “rare earths.”

Several years ago, I wrote about “rare earths” (17 unusual chemical elements that are not geologically rare) in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and why they are not a substantial cause for concern in the transition to clean energy. For the past decade, commentators have warned (and stock speculators hyped) that China’s near-monopoly on supermagnet rare-earth elements could make the growing global shift to electric cars and wind turbines impossible — because their motors and generators, respectively, supposedly required supermagnets and hence rare earths. But that’s nonsense.

My own favorite promising new technology, though I’m not sure where the R&D is at right now, is cars where carbon fiber frames would also provide much of the battery capacity.

I bring this all up because it directly relates to the PolyMet, Teck and Talon (aka Musk mine) proposals in Minnesota. (Twin Metals is probably dead. Probably.) You have every right to treat strategic metals arguments puked out on behalf of those projects with disdain. Indeed, with outright contempt.

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