Mining Raw Materials

Lithium-ion batteries can be broken down into 3 basic parts: the cathode, or positive electrode; the anode, or the negative electrode; and the electrolyte, or the chemical compound in between them. The raw materials that are necessary for making the components for the cathode and the anode in lithium-ion battery cells are nickel, manganese, lithium, graphite and cobalt. The global supply of the last three raw materials is considered critical.

Cathode Material


Manganese (Mn) is a very commonly used raw material in the manufacturing of steel, but research is being done on using high-grade, high-purity manganese in lithium-ion batteries. Researchers have discovered that using a nanosheet of manganese dioxide increases the performance of lithium-sulphur (a Generation 4 grade of lithium-ion battery) cathodes significantly. This is significant as the cost of manganese is much lower than that of cobalt.


Lithium (Li) is a key component in a range of innovative industries due to its high-energy storage, insulating and heat resistant capabilities. Lithium is a soft silvery-white metal which is highly reactive and does not occur in nature in its elemental form. In nature, it occurs as compounds within hard rock deposits and salt brines.

Lithium and its chemical compounds have a wide range of industrial applications resulting in numerous chemical and technical uses. Lithium has the highest electrochemical potential of all metals, a key property in its role in lithium-ion batteries. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries typically weigh approximately 75% less than an equivalent lead acid battery, making them an ideal solution for high-performance products, including electric cars, bikes and wheelchairs.


Nickel (Ni) has long been widely used in batteries, most commonly in nickel cadmium (NiCd) and in the longer-lasting nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries, which came to the fore in the 1980s. Their adoption in power tools and early digital cameras revealed the potential for portable devices, changing expectations of how we work and live. The mid-1990s saw the first significant use of NiMH batteries in vehicles in the Toyota Prius. Around the same time, the first commercial applications for Li-ion batteries emerged, initially in camcorders and eventually finding their way into smartphones, laptops and the numerous other portable devices we now take for granted.

The major advantage of using nickel in batteries is that it helps deliver higher energy density and greater storage capacity at a lower cost. Further advances in nickel-containing battery technology mean it is set for an increasing role in energy storage systems, helping make the cost of each kWh of battery storage more competitive. It is making energy production from intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar replace fossil fuels more viable.

Nickel is an essential component for the cathodes of many secondary battery designs.


Cobalt (Co) is mostly retrieved as a byproduct from copper and nickel production. Cobalt has a very high cost, so battery manufacturers are seeking alternatives, but currently cobalt cannot be entirely eliminated in lithium-ion batteries. Roughly 50% of the cobalt produced globally is found in rechargeable batteries.

Cobalt’s unique properties make it essential for the thermal stability and resistance to the structure and functioning of lithium-ion batteries and the integrity of the cathode. Cobalt also plays a decisive role to achieve high energy densities within the lithium-ion batteries.

Electrolyte Material

The electrolyte plays a key role in transporting the positive lithium ions between the cathode and anode. High purity electrolytes are a core component of lithium-ion batteries. The most commonly used electrolyte is comprised of lithium salt, such as LiPF6 in an organic solution.There are many other kinds of materials that are used as electrolytes. All of them are based on a lithium-containing material that allows for the easy diffusion of lithium.

In addition to lithium salt, a range of additives needs to be included in the finished electrolyte to give the required properties to the electrolyte solution. These lithium-ion battery electrolyte additives improve the stability by preventing degradation of the solution. The specific electrolyte formulation will vary depending on the specific anode and cathode materials being used, however it is important to keep in mind that the specific additives will impact overall battery performance, especially in high energy density automotive battery applications.

Liquid electrolytes are most commonly used today. Solid State and polymer electrolytes are being researched, but are not commonly used today.

Anode Material

Graphite is currently used as the active anode material in about 90 % of all lithium-ion batteries. The remaining 10% usually come from amorphous carbon, lithium titanate or silicon. Therefore, graphite dominates the market for anode materials. The high surface area and layered crystal structure which are features of graphite makes it suitable for use as an anode material into which the lithium ions are intercalated, i.e. “sandwiched” between layers of graphite.

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