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What are LFP, NMC, NCA batteries in electric cars?

MG ZS EV LFP battery exoskeleton

Not all electric vehicle batteries are created equally.

We are seeing increasing diversification of battery chemistries across electric car models, with different chemistries being used based on product positioning and performance needs.

High-voltage batteries make up a significant portion of EV manufacturing costs due to the laborious extraction of the minerals required, resulting in higher upfront costs compared to petrol equivalents. On average, batteries comprise about a third of total manufacturing costs (refer chart below), but this proportion increases as battery capacity increases.

However, a number of new developments are alleviating the cost barrier, accelerating the total cost of ownership ‘break even’ point with combustion cars, improving usable driving range and more.

There are also concerns around longevity, safety and environmental sustainability, which we’ve addressed in our three-part mythbusting series.

Gone are the days of lead-acid batteries; most EVs today feature either lithium-ion NMC, NCA or LFP chemistry batteries. But what are their advantages, disadvantages and which should you choose in your next electric car?

NMC

Black Polestar 2 Long Range Performance side view

Nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries are the most common form found in EVs today, ranging from the Nissan Leaf to Mercedes-Benz EQS.

As the name suggests, the cathode end of the battery is typically composed of 33 per cent of each nickel, manganese and cobalt. NMC packs are beneficial because of their higher energy density (more driving range) and longer lifecycle, but the use of cobalt and nickel have been attributed to unsustainable and unethical mining practices in developing countries. Furthermore, nickel and cobalt are expensive minerals making NMC packs more expensive than LFP per unit of energy.

However, car brands typically recommend owners to only charge NMC batteries up to 80 per cent to avoid long-term degradation effects. Some other automakers like Rivian and Polestar recommend 70 per cent or 90 per cent limits respectively. Fully charging should only be occasional and when needed during long road trips for example.

For specific charging recommendations from each manufacturer, check out our updated EV model database.

NCA

Blue Tesla Model 3 AC Destination charging rear

Nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) batteries are similar to NMC packs and currently only used in higher-end Long Range and Performance variants of the Tesla Model 3, Model Y, Model S and Model X.

NCA batteries have a high energy density, but swaps the manganese with aluminium to further improve its lifespan compared to NMC. Similar to NMC they are more expensive than LFP for each unit of enegy.

The prevalence of NCA packs in EVs are rare and currently only limited to Tesla; it recommends charging it to 90 per cent to preserve its long-term health.

LFP

Blue BYD Atto 3 Yuan Plus parked beside plants top-side view
Image by - BYD via Sina Weibo

Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) is emerging as a lower cost, more sustainable battery type which is adopted by the refreshed MG ZS EV, BYD Atto 3, base variants of the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, and more. It’s mooted to be the battery to lower the upfront price tag barrier for smaller and entry-level EVs.

Increasingly, other EV manufacturers are also adopting LFP cells in the battery packs of their base models, including: Volkswagen, Rivian and Mercedes-Benz.

Unlike NMC and NCA, LFP batteries don’t contain nickel and cobalt. As a result, they’re also cheaper to produce for manufacturers, but are less energy dense (lower driving range).

A key advantage of LFP is the freedom to fully charge the pack to 100 per cent every time with substantially less degradation concerns. In some cases, this means an LFP-equipped EV could have a similar usable driving range as an NMC or NCA vehicle limited by a 70 to 90 per cent cap.

For example, the mid-spec Tesla Model 3 Long Range with a large NCA battery – with a charge limited to 80 per cent – would have the same 'day-to-day' driving range as a fully charged entry-level rear-wheel drive (RWD) model. That's despite costing $14,500 more. It's worth noting tha Tesla recommends charging its NCA packs to 90 per cent.

Other battery developments

Mercedes Vision EQXX in aerodynamic wind test top view

Battery manufacturers from the likes of Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), Panasonic, Samsung SDI, LG Energy Solution, BYD and more are rapidly developing new batteries that are more energy dense, lighter, safer, and more sustainable and affordable.

For example, all BYD electric cars use its proprietary ‘Blade Battery’ technology where long, thin cells are stacked closely together to provide structural integrity for the LFP pack – instead of using box-shaped modules to house each cell. Due to this space saving, the Shenzhen automaker claims 50 per cent more energy density and is said to be safer in extreme weather conditions.

Similarly, Tesla is trialling its ‘4680’ cells built by Panasonic, LG and Samsung on some Model Y crossovers made in Texas. With a 46mm diameter, 80mm length and tab-less design, the cylindrical cell allows for a claimed five times improvement in energy density, six times increase in power, and 16 per cent increase in driving range. It is also part of the vehicle structure and cheaper to produce (around 56 per cent cost per kWh cheaper).

Additionally, other developments include replacing graphite with silicon in the anode of lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries, and solid state batteries. Combined with innovations in vehicle design in maximising aerodynamics, it’ll ultimately improve energy efficiency, battery density, faster charging capabilities, and thermal runaway safety for EVs. However, these new batteries will start mass production from around 2025 and will initially be expensive for carmakers and consumers.

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