How nickel makes electric vehicle batteries better!

Electric vehicles are quickly becoming more commonplace as automakers introduce new models designed to appeal to a wider range of consumers. One thing they all have in common is a battery, most of which use nickel. Here’s the scoop on why nickel is used in EV batteries and what it’s like driving with one in an electric vehicle.

Why is nickel used in EV batteries?

Early electric vehicles had very short ranges and that made range anxiety an issue. No one wants to run out of juice on the way to work or, worse yet, with a car full of kids in desperate need of a lunch break. Nickel helps make sure that doesn’t happen.

This is because nickel batteries have nearly twice the energy density of other materials. A lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery that uses nickel helps increase driving range, so you make it to work on time and the kids get their lunch. Nickel also weighs less and takes up less room so an EV battery that uses nickel can be smaller leaving more space for cargo and people.

What’s it like driving an EV with a nickel-based battery?

The all-new F-150 Lightning is the electric version of Ford’s best-selling pickup truck, and it uses a nickel-based battery. We had the chance to test out this new EV with an extensive on-road drive, a little off-roading, and even a high-speed dirt course. It did all the truck things one would expect and was a blast to drive through the Texas dirt without any performance sacrifice. In fact, it shows off impressive acceleration that puts other trucks to shame in large part due to its battery and how torque is delivered.

Torque takes time to ramp up in a gas vehicle, but all the torque is available the minute you press the accelerator in an EV. Acceleration is stronger with an EV than it is with a gas engine. We’re talking press you back in your seat and hold on for the ride strong.

The Tesla Model Y’s luxury SUV version that uses a nickel-based battery and delivers impressive performance with a 0-60 mph time of just 3.5 seconds. It’s practically guaranteed to make you smile.

Ford F-150® Lightning™ all-electric truck
Ford F-150® Lightning™ all-electric truck
Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUV
Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUV

Even the more affordable Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUV, which is the 2022 World Car of the Year, delivers strong acceleration that engages the driver. Acceleration in an EV is an experience unlike any other.

What goes where the engine was?

There’s also the bonus of batteries not needing the same space that an engine requires. The smaller size of a nickel-based EV battery further helps engineers find more ways to incorporate them into vehicles without sacrificing cargo and passenger room. This includes tucking them low beneath your feet, so they don’t compromise trunk space.

This leaves a huge amount of space under the hood since there’s no engine. The front trunk, or frunk, is small in some vehicles, but when you’re talking trucks it’s a huge space for storing stuff you want safely secured and out of sight. The F-150 Lightning has 14.1 cubic feet in its frunk. Smaller frunks are found in smaller EVs, but all provide that little extra bit of storage to make day-to-day life easier. We found smaller frunks great for keeping messy stuff, think wet clothes after a day at the beach, separate from everything else you need for the day’s adventure.

What about charging?

While the number of public charging stations is increasing, they still aren’t as easy to find as gas stations. It also takes longer to charge an EV than it does to pump a tank of gas. While range isn’t usually an issue for the number of miles people drive in an average day, it makes a big difference on road trips. This is when a longer-range battery matters. It reduces the number of times you will need to stop to find a charging station as well as the amount of time spent waiting for the battery to charge once you find that charging station.

Longer range, less weight, and smaller dimensions make the use of nickel in EV batteries an ideal choice.

Plenty of well-known automakers see the benefits of nickel and use nickel-based lithium-ion batteries in their vehicles. Volkswagen uses one in its ID.4 with a range of up to 251 miles while the Ford Mustang Mach-E has a range of up to 305 miles per charge.

  • How is nickel mined?

    Currently, nickel mining is conducted in over 25 countries around the world. There are many different types of nickel ores that all require different means of extraction. There are also numerous companies currently using nickel in their EV batteries including Panasonic and LG Energy Solutions. Though there is an impact on the environment, Nickel Institute (NI) member companies put a priority on responsible and sustainable production practices that adhere to local regulatory requirements.

    In addition to seeking sources that have as minimal an impact on the environment as possible, there are programs in development to ensure sustainable and responsible practices so that battery manufacturers can source nickel with confidence, knowing that it is produced to internationally agreed standards.  The Nickel Institute supports the ethical production of nickel and is working in conjunction with organizations that mine copper, lead, and zinc to create a framework of standards for responsible sourcing of all these metals.

  • What about recycling?

    Nickel is a recyclable material that can be used again and again without a loss of quality. The nickel recycled from batteries is often reused and experiences a second life in new batteries, in catalysts or as an alloying element in the stainless steel industry. And because nickel is valuable, nickel-based EV batteries are recycled more than no-nickel alternatives.  Today, roughly 68 percent of the nickel currently used in all consumer products is recycled. That number is set to grow as the infrastructure for collection and recycling nickel becomes more robust. The highly recyclable nature of nickel creates a circular economy. This is an economy where instead of a component like nickel being wasted, it’s reused and repurposed indefinitely, which reduces its environmental impact.

    The metals in an EV battery, including nickel, do contribute to the battery’s overall carbon footprint, but NI member companies are working on its decline. This is due to efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emission and continually improve its processes. This on-going effort further improves the sustainable nature of nickel and makes its use in EV batteries an environmentally responsible choice as electric vehicles gain in popularity.

Are nickel batteries safe?

Safety is a concern with any vehicle, which is why there is extensive testing by a wide range of agencies and automakers during the development process of every vehicle. EVs are just as thoroughly tested as gas-powered vehicles, but the newness of their technologies raises lots of questions about their safety. It’s something of an unknown for most people, but there’s good news. The lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles are quite safe.

AutoInsuranceEZ collected data from both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) to compare the risk of fires in a gas vehicle versus an electric vehicle. Since there are far more gas vehicles on the road, it compared fires per 100,000 units sold rather than just overall number of fires. Gas vehicles had 1,530 fires per 100K sold while electric vehicles had just 25 fires per 100K sold. That’s a striking difference that shows the fear of fires with an EV are unfounded.

The notion that an EV could spontaneously catch fire is a common misconception. The reality is that electric vehicle fires are often the result of vehicle damage incurred in an accident. The same is true of a gas-powered vehicle, which can catch fire when it’s damaged. Compromises to the charging system can also cause an EV fire, but a properly functioning EV will not spontaneously catch fire.

Local fire departments know how to handle EV fires just as they know how to handle other fires. Extensive outreach on the part of automakers has helped improve their methods and is ongoing. Lithium-ion batteries are a safe technology that is continually being refined and improved to deliver reliable and efficient vehicle operation.

The notion that an EV could spontaneously catch fire is a common misconception.

Ford Mustang Mach-E
Ford Mustang Mach-E

Electric vehicles are still new, occupying only a small percentage of the vehicles on the road today. That’s changing as costs continue to decline and the number of options for consumers increases. The use of nickel in lithium-ion batteries is a safe way to help extend EV range and improve the electric vehicle experience as we move away from fossil fuels towards an electrified future. 

The use of nickel in lithium-ion batteries is a safe way to help extend EV range and improve the electric vehicle experience as we move away from fossil fuels towards an electrified future.

Whether you want the versatility of a crossover like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the performance spirit of the Mustang Mach-E, or the capability of the F-150 Lightning pickup, there’s an electric vehicle with a nickel-based battery ready to get the job done. So, if you are thinking of purchasing an EV, make sure to check its battery type!