A study showed that 3D printing could be a good alternative for producing lithium-ion batteries, which could eventually lead manufacturers to depend less on graphite.
Benchmark Minerals notes that graphite cost has been increasing due to the tight supply of the material and there could be a potential shortage of the mineral worldwide over the next decade. The study could be the first step in determining alternative sources of energy for lithium-powered products.
Researchers from North Carolina’s Duke University said that the majority of Li-ion batteries today are either in cylindrical or rectangular shapes. The size restriction means that manufacturers would need to consider the allocated space for the battery when designing an electric car or mobile phone.
With 3D printing, this size restriction would cease to exist and it would provide them with more options for maximizing space. Design options would also become more diverse since there’s no need to think about how the battery would fit inside the product. If successful, the new technology would likely help meet the expected increase in demand for batteries in the last quarter of 2018.
Demand and Supply
A greater demand for Li-ion batteries between October and December indicates a greater need for graphite as well. Graphite prices have considerably gone up because of the limited supply and bigger demand, especially for electric vehicles.
For instance, a Nissan Leaf’s battery requires around 40kg of graphite yet only 20% of the annual global production is allocated for Li-ion batteries. The current level of production is estimated at 1.2 million tons, which means the demand could easily exceed the available supply as more people switch to electric cars.
Manufacturers of lithium-powered products should consider alternative sources of energy. Otherwise, they should be ready to pay highly volatile graphite prices due to the current market trends.