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Want to know where the batteries go? Look at their ingredients.

Perhaps this is not surprising, since I think about batteries almost all the time. If you want to read more about this topic, we have many options on the site. You can start here, here or here.

Batteries are revolutionizing transportation and can also be key to storing renewable energy sources like wind or solar power when those resources are unavailable. So, in a sense, they are a central technology for the two sectors responsible for the largest share of emissions: energy and transport.

And if you want to understand what’s going on with batteries, you have to look at what’s going on with battery materials right now. The International Energy Agency has just released a new report on the status of critical minerals in energy, which has some interesting tidbits related to batteries. So for this week’s newsletter, let’s dive into some data on battery materials.

So what’s new in battery materials?

This probably isn’t news to you, but electric vehicle sales are growing rapidly, accounting for 14% of global new car sales in 2022 and reaching 18% in 2023, according to the IEA. This global growth is one of the reasons that we here at MIT Technology Review have included the “inevitable electric car” on our list of disruptive technologies this year.

Add to the steady growth of the market the fact that there are more and more batteries for electric vehicles around the world. That’s right – not just in the US, which is notorious for its massive cars. The US still accounts for the largest average battery capacity, but battery size growth is a global phenomenon, with both Asia and Europe seeing similar or even steeper jumps in recent years.

Add to that the growing demand for electric vehicles, the growth in battery capacity around the world and the role that batteries can play in storing data on the grid, and it is becoming clear that we will soon see a huge increase in demand for the materials needed to make batteries.

Take lithium, one of the key materials used in lithium-ion batteries today. If we’re going to build enough electric cars to achieve zero emissions, demand for lithium will increase roughly tenfold between now and 2040. Lithium is one of the most dramatic examples, but other metals such as copper and nickel will also be in high demand in the coming decades (you can play with the IEA data viewer here).

We will not run out of necessary materials to generate renewable energy, as I wrote earlier this year. Batteries may be a tougher scenario, but in general, experts say we have enough resources on the planet to produce the batteries we need. And as battery recycling increases, we should eventually get to a place where there is a steady supply of materials from old batteries.

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