The lithium-ion battery business is growing rapidly up to many tens of billions of dollars yearly, thanks to massive investment in the industry. Their use is widening well beyond e-readers, tablets, laptops and mobile phones with vehicles being particularly important for the future; mainly hybrid electric and pure electric vehicles by land, water and air. Many suppliers are collapsing while Tesla with Panasonic is about to out-invest the leaders.

Hybrid and pure electric cars will be much more than half of the value of this market by the end of the decade, forecasts IDTechEx. About 70% of the relatively small number of manufacturers of these have committed to only three suppliers over the next three years. However, everything about Li-ion is changing, including all electrode and electrolyte chemistry and morphology.

The primary battleground in improving the properties of Li-ion batteries to meet market needs now lies in energy density and cost per unit of energy stored because other parameters are generally good enough for most applications in vehicle traction. It is primarily about the all-electric range of hybrid and pure electric cars and making them affordable, with adequate life. Currently resale prices are crippling partly because of inadequate battery life. Cathode chemistry has been the primary focus but now there is also considerable attention towards anode chemistry and electrolyte.

Only a few countries have a sufficient gross output to support a viable supply chain of these battery chemicals, materials and research. Only a few manufacturers involved can vertically integrate to a great extent. Europe has particular challenges and it is in great danger of being a follower instead of a leader in this technology.

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