“This is a big deal,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference unveiling plans for the factory. Expanding battery options will allow Ford to “build more electric vehicles faster and ultimately make them more affordable,” said Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman.
Also known as lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the type to be produced at the new plant is a lower-cost alternative to the nickel-cobalt-containing batteries used in most electric vehicles in the US and current Europe While the technology has grown in popularity in China, Ford’s factory, developed in partnership with Chinese battery giant CATL, marks a milestone in the West. By reducing costs while increasing charging speed and extending lifespan, LFP batteries could help expand electric vehicle options for drivers.
All lithium-ion batteries contain lithium, which helps store charge in a part of the battery called the cathode. But lithium doesn’t do this job alone: it’s attached to the cathode by a supporting mold of other materials.
The most common type of cathode used in vehicles today contains nickel, manganese and cobalt in addition to lithium. Some automakers, such as Tesla, use another cathode chemistry made from nickel, cobalt, and aluminum. These two types of cathodes have risen to prominence in part because they have a high energy density, meaning batteries will be smaller and lighter than others that can store the same amount of energy.
While these two were the default choices for cathodes in electric vehicle batteries, lithium iron phosphate, an older chemistry, has seen a comeback in recent years, largely driven by strong growth in china
These iron-containing batteries tend to be about 20% cheaper than other lithium-ion batteries of the same current capacity. This is partly because LFP does not contain cobalt or nickel, expensive metals that have seen large price swings in recent years. Battery makers are also working to reduce cobalt content because mining the metal has been linked to particularly harmful working conditions.
Making cathodes free of cobalt and nickel could help automakers cut costs, and some have already begun changing the chemistry of batteries used in vehicles sold in the US. Tesla today imports LFP cells from China for some models, including its Model 3. Ford previously announced that it would begin using the technology in its Mach-E in 2023 and the F-150 Lightning in 2024.
With its newly announced factory, Ford would become the first automaker to produce LFP batteries in the US. The new facility, which will use technology from CATL, could help boost US LFP production more broadly. “It’s a key point for the American manufacturing landscape,” he says Evelina Stoikoubattery technology analyst at BloombergNEF, an energy-focused research firm.