From fertilisers to fuelling EVs
Phosphate, designated an EU Critical Raw Material in 2020, has long been acknowledged as a useful macronutrient in fertilisers – boosting crop yields and alleviating food hunger. Growing world population, limited availability of land and the drive for food diversity are all key drivers in demand. More and more frequently, however, it is also used in electric vehicles, in the form of so-called LFP batteries, where it is combined with lithium and iron.
According to a report from Electronics 360, around 19% of the world’s electric vehicles are powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. Pioneered in China and Initially adopted in the West by luxury market leader Tesla in its entry-level vehicles, American veteran carmaker Ford has also recently announced it is planning the installation of LFPs into two of its models, the Mustang Mach-E (starting later this year) and the F-150 Lightning in 2024.
In announcing that it was committing $3.5 billion to an LFP battery plant in Michigan, US, Ford said that LFP battery technology “helps reduce reliance on critical minerals such as nickel and cobalt and is in line with Ford’s work to create an EV supply chain that upholds its commitments to sustainability and human rights”.
LFPs work by using lithium iron phosphate as the cathode and graphite as the electrode and the upswing in their use is thanks to several factors. They have enhanced durability and can be charged daily from 0% to 100%. They are also cheaper to produce thanks to the fact that they do not depend on nickel or cobalt – that are costly with restricted supply.
Other advantages include the fact that LFPs are less prone to thermal runaway that can cause overheating and – in worst-case scenarios – fire and explosion, and they offer enhanced bi-directional performance. On the downside, LFPs are slower to fast charge at colder temperatures and because of their weight, they are best suited to entry-level cars that are not expected to travel long distances or with high performance.
As a result, Ford will be able to tailor LFPs to specific customer needs; in one survey by the company, it was revealed that the average Mustang Mach-E owner drives on average just 51.5 kilometres per day with each trip around eight kms. It was also reported that 95% of owners started their cars at ambient temperatures, so the batteries’ sluggish starts at temperatures below freezing would be negligible.
The phosphate market is currently dominated by exports from China, Morocco, and the United States. According to investingnews.com China produces around 85m MT per year, with Morocco on 38m MT and the US in third place with 22m MT. Russia in fourth place produces 14m MT. With demand for phosphate-based fertilisers growing, oil and gas under political duress and – according to Goldman Sachs – EV sales forecast to be half of all global car sales by 2035, a lot of attention is being given to European phosphate reserves.
Supported by progressive renewable energy infrastructure, high environmental and social sustainability standards, Norge Mining is ideally placed in Norway to further phosphate exploration. And the mineral deposits already identified by the company could go some way towards addressing the gaps between EU-based supply and demand.