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Growth in demand for Li-ion batteries has encompassed a range of application areas, including consumer electronics, electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage, the latest entrant into the market. While the ubiquity of hybrid vehicles and full-electric vehicles has yet to be manifested on global roads in greater numbers, the process of a marked shift towards more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly means of transport as a switch from conventional gasoline powered vehicles has commenced.

Currently, the market boasts of over two dozen all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle models, with at least two dozen more in the offing over the coming few years. Following an announcement by BMW in March of this year, Mercedes has taken the battle further by announcing the launch of at least ten different plug-in hybrid models in the next couple of years. Nissan Leaf still ranks as the best-selling EV globally, with 165,000+ units being sold by March 2015 since its debut in late 2010. Standing at second and third places in the currently available EVs, respectively, are the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Tesla Model S. Sales of EVs/PHEVs in 2014 globally totaled 320,000 units, representing an increase of 80% over the previous year, and are on track to reach the 500,000 unit mark in 2015. Worldwide, the shipments of lithium-ion powered hybrid and electric vehicles stood at 792.8 thousand units in 2014 and maintaining a robust CAGR of 36.9% between 2014 and 2020, global hybrid and electric vehicle shipments are further projected to reach 5.2 million units by 2020.

For a long period of time, passenger vehicles and devices that required self-sustaining power supplies had to rely on lead acid batteries as the sole source of energy, with the scenario now having changed due to the arrival of the Li-ion battery. Lithium, the lightest metal discovered and that is available in abundance, has been a groundbreaking discovery for the battery industry, with its future well-positioned in this ever evolving area. Riding on the back of major end-users propelling growth, including automobile manufacturers, industrial goods manufacturers, consumer device vendors, the grid and renewable energy storage sector, demand for Li-ion batteries is expected to maintain an upward trend over the coming years. Advancements in Li-ion batteries have been given a shot in the arm following a move towards hybrid and electric vehicles, with manufacturers engaged in constant efforts aimed at improving upon existing technology for developing more lightweight and efficient batteries that offer greater travelling distance between charges. Consumption of Li-ion cells, standing at 299.3 million in 2014 is further expected to register a CAGR if 33.1% over 2014-2020 and reach a projected 1.7 billion by 2020. Li-ion Battery Capacity is projected to reach 87 GWh by 2020 from 8.3 GWh in 2014, whereas global revenues derived from Li-ion battery sales is anticipated to post a CAGR of 43.1% in reaching a projected US$36.5 million by 2020.

In terms of Li-ion battery capacity, Panasonic dominates the supply of Li-ion battery cells for hybrid and electric vehicles, with a 2014 share of 40.4% equating to 3.3 GWh. AESC and LG Chem stand at numbers two and three, with 1.6 GWh (19.4% share) and 960.4 MWh (11.6% share) in the same year.

Entailing an outlay of US$5 billion, Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory is a Li-ion battery manufacturing facility being constructed in the state of Nevada in the US, which is scheduled to commence operations by 2017. This factory is anticipated to produce more Li-ion batteries on an annual basis than the total number manufactured worldwide in 2013. Tesla has collaborated with Panasonic of Japan in this venture, with plans to produce 500,000 batteries for EVs by 2020. Panasonic and Tesla have had a long association, with the former being a supplier to Li-ion batteries that Tesla has used in its introductory vehicle, the Roadster, as also in its current Model S sedan and the upcoming Model X crossover SUV. The deal with Panasonic, which involved Tesla giving up creating its own proprietary battery technology and utilizing existing infrastructure, has helped Tesla in eliminating considerable costs that go into the most expensive component of any high-performance EV, viz., the battery. Hence, Gigafactory can be seen as the natural extension of a long-forged partnership between the companies, with the long-term objective of delivering cost-effective EVs to global customers.

Panasonic has, in the interim, also formed an alliance with Celgard, a subsidiary of Polypore International, for the joint development of uncoated and coated Celgard separators to be used in next-generation Panasonic battery cells. The development stage is set to be followed by both companies entering into a long-term supply agreement. Battery separators find application in enabling the transfer of lithium ions, with the separator creating a barrier between the battery’s cathode and anode. The current technology of Celgard’s separators employs polypropylene, polyethylene or tri-layer PP/PE/PP electrolytic membranes in its separators.

Samsung has been in the business of manufacturing Li-ion batteries since 2000, and the ensuing years have enabled the company in establishing a leading position through innovative techniques that have led to the development of quality products. The company has been acknowledged as a global leader in Li-ion battery technology since 2010. Prismatic battery cells made by Samsung are high in energy density and power, even while maintaining the limits prescribed for standard battery dimensional parameters. The company plans to continue focusing on this technology under the assumption that prismatic is less challenging than laminate technology. By 2020, researchers are expecting costs to decline to US$150 per kilowatt hour, with the drop being more prominent in regard to materials than in regard to cell/design. Advancements of designs in manufacturing naturally lead to costs being reduced and Samsung has been at the forefront in adopting cost-cutting measures. The company has capability of mass-producing a range of advanced auto battery cells, which include the 5Ah-Class for hybrid electrics, the 20Ah for plug-ins, the 60Ah for pure electric vehicles and the 4.0Ah/11Ah “Hi Cap” for micro/mild HEVs. Samsung’s 5.2Ah is touted as the world’s smallest and most powerful cell and its 5.9Ah leads in providing highest power density in contrast to any competing offering.  Future targets of Samsung are aimed at delivering technological advancements in the area of Li-ion batteries. By 2016, the company proposes to release a new nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) battery capable of delivering an energy density of 130 wh/kg, with plans for upgrading it to 250 wh/kg by 2019. With several industry players making a beeline towards implementing Li-air fuel cell technology, Samsung has expressed intentions to achieve this target by 2020 and offer a battery with an energy density of over 300 wh/kg. Further, the company’s EV 60Ah-class battery offering the industry’s highest volumetric energy density is under series production for European and US OEMs. Samsung’s 26Ah and 28Ah, under production for European OEMs, stand out as the industry leaders in volumetric power and energy density, with a stackable and compact design enabling in cell modularity and easy packaging.