As electric vehicle production ramps up worldwide, a supply crunch for battery materials is looming

As car manufacturers ramp up production of electric cars, the metals used to make the vehicles’ batteries may face a supply crunch in the next few years, according to a new report.

Lithium, cobalt, and nickel supplies are expected to be worst hit, the Wednesday report from energy consulting and research firm Wood Mackenzie. That’s as analysts predict a boom in electric vehicle use over the next three decades, but cite limited new metal production.

For now, supplies of those three metals are enough to meet demand, according to Gavin Montgomery, research director at Wood Mackenzie. But short-term market prices of those metals have fallen, and that will deter producers from increasing supply to meet future demand, he added.

In fact, in the next few years, demand for the metals is expected to grow so rapidly — as car producers make more electric vehicles — that suppliers won’t be able to keep up, Montgomery noted.

Montgomery isn’t the only one predicting a future supply crunch.

“It’s dawning on North America and Europe that there’s a raw materials issue that needs to be addressed here,” leading metals company CleanTeQ’s chief executive officer, Sam Riggall, told Bloomberg in early July.

Furthermore, limited amounts of lithium, cobalt, and nickel exist on Earth, so there may simply not be enough to meet car manufacturers’ future demand.

“Getting the quantity of nickel that (electric vehicles) will need by the mid-2020s will be a challenge ... with lead times often up to 10 years, investment needs to happen now,” said Montgomery.

Car buyers’ shifting tastes partly explain why manufacturers are demanding more of those metals. Customers have been turning toward electric vehicles, rather than traditional gasoline-powered ones, in recent years.

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