Tesla made big headlines in the battery industry when it revealed that approximately 50% of electric cars produced in the first quarter of 2022 were equipped with lithium ferrophosphate (LFP) batteries. The change to this technology has been promoted by the market itself, that is, motivated by the manufacturing capacity. The company believes that to ensure sustained long-term growth, it must diversify its battery offer according to the needs of each specific model.
In the electric vehicle industry, the technology that is implemented in the batteries that propel them is a fundamental factor for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Factors like energy capacity, weight, reliability, lifespan, cost and safety of the battery are limiting for the performance and the technical and economic feasibility of a product.
Lithium-ion batteries are the true market dominators, as they meet all the requirements in a more or less regular way, but without excelling in any of them. That’s why, as the market continues to evolve, other chemistries have been gaining in popularity. Beyond New Materials for electrodes and electrolyte, new architectures and new technologies more efficient, LFP batteries, which have been on the market for quite some time, are becoming one of the most convincing competitors of conventional lithium batteries.
LFP batteries work on a very similar chemical and physical principle to most lithium-ion batteries, but employ different internal components to achieve the end result. Inside an LFP battery are many of the standard components found in other batteries: a cathode, an anode, an electrolyte and a separator. The difference is that LFP batteries take advantage of the LiFePO4 as cathode material. The anode, although it can vary, is usually made of graphite, which is usually the predominant material in it.
Graphite is particularly suitable for lithium-ion batteries, as the spaces within its crystal lattice are suitable for holding lithium ions for the purpose of storing energy in a charged battery, in a process known as intercalation. Therefore, this component is common to both types of battery.
Battery cells with this chemistry achieve a specific energy between 90 and 120Wh/kg and a nominal voltage between 3.2V and 3.3V Charge rates are around 1C and discharge rates range from 1-25C.
The main benefit of LFP cathodes compared to nickel-rich, part cobalt, part manganese (and sometimes aluminum) NCM or NCMA cathodes is the relative abundance of iron in the earth. This aspect is key since its greater availability compared to conventional lithium-ion battery materials allows for cheaper, more sustainable batteries that are less susceptible to supply chain problems.
In terms of performance, LFP cells offer discharge rate and life cycle benefits. With a discharge rate of up to 25C, LFP batteries have the ability to deliver more power, faster, and at higher temperatures than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Their life cycle is also longer. They offer between 1,000 and 5,000 charge/discharge cycles compared to 500–1,000 charge/discharge cycles for lithium-ion batteries.
In return, the most significant disadvantage of LFP technology is in its energy density. While the lithium-ion ones offer 150-200 Wh/kg, the LFPs only reach 90-120Wh/kg. The consequence is that LFP batteries tend to be heavier and larger to achieve the same energy capacity as lithium-ion batteries.
Despite all this, in response to reasons of long-term growth of its production capacity, which is the plot line of the third part of Elon Musk’s Master Plan, Tesla has installed them in half of the electric cars manufactured in the first quarter of 2022. The manufacturer considers that it must diversify its battery offer based on the needs of each specific model. Most of the LFP batteries you are mounting are in their standard range vehiclesthat is to say, in the base models that do not aspire to ranges of over 500 kilometers or high yields, but which, nevertheless, perfectly meet the needs of customers.
The fact that Tesla relies so heavily on this technology suggests how much it has matured and the role it will play in the future of the industry. Since Tesla is a pioneer in electric mobility, it is expected that other companies will follow suit in the near future and start using LFP batteries in part of their range of electric cars.