Home Critical engine Electric vehicles versus petrol vehicles: what are cars made of?

Electric vehicles versus petrol vehicles: what are cars made of?


This infographic, based on Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), compares the minerals used in a typical electric car with a conventional gasoline-powered car.

Editor’s note: Steel and aluminum are not presented in the analysis. Mineral values ​​are for the entire vehicle, including batteries and motors.

Batteries are heavy

Sales of electric cars are booming and the growing demand for minerals used in electric vehicles already poses a challenge for the mining industry to keep up with. This is because unlike gas-powered cars which run on internal combustion engines, electric vehicles rely on huge mineral-intensive batteries to power the car.

For example, the average 60 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery—the same size used in a Chevy Bolt—alone contains about 185 kilograms of minerals, about 10 times more than in a typical car battery (18 kg).

Lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite are all crucial to battery performance, longevity and energy density. In addition, electric vehicles can contain more than one mile of copper wiring inside the stator to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy.

Of the eight minerals on our list, five are not used in conventional cars: graphite, nickel, cobalt, lithium and rare earths.

The minerals listed for the electric car are based on IEA analysis using a 75kWh battery with an NMC 622 cathode and a graphite-based anode.

Since graphite is the primary anode material for electric vehicle batteries, it is also the largest component by weight. Although materials like nickel, manganese, cobalt, and lithium are smaller components individually, together they make up the cathode, which plays a critical role in determining the performance of electric vehicles.

Although the engine of conventional cars is heavier than that of electric vehicles, it requires less minerals. Engine components are usually made of iron alloys, such as structural steels, stainless steels, iron-based sintered metals, as well as cast iron or aluminum alloy parts.

EV motors, however, often rely on rare-earth permanent magnets and can contain up to a mile of copper wiring that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.

The impact of electric vehicles on metals markets

The growth of the electric vehicle market is not only beginning to have a noticeable impact on the automotive industry, but also on the metals market.

Electric vehicles and battery storage have already replaced consumer electronics to become the biggest consumer of lithium and is expected to take over the stainless steel industry as the number one end user of nickel by 2040.

In the second half of 2021, 84,600 tons of nickel were deployed on roads around the world in the batteries of all newly sold passenger electric vehicles combined, 59% more than in H2 2020. In addition, an additional 107,200 tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) were deployed globally in new electric vehicle batteries, a 88% increase year by year.

With growing government support and consumers adopting electric vehicles, securing the supply of materials needed for the electric vehicle revolution will remain a top priority.

(This article first appeared in the Visual capitalist elements)