One of Tesla's key suppliers is making the best electric-car battery cell on the market today, beating those made by Samsung and other rivals

  • UBS ranked seven electric-vehicle battery cells made by the industry's biggest firms.
  • The bank ranked each cell based on a variety of criteria related to technology, materials, price, and manufacturing.
  • Panasonic took the top spot, followed by LG Chem and CATL.
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The auto industry is preparing for a surge of electric-vehicle production that some experts believe could underpin a major shift away from gas-powered cars in the coming decades.

One of the most important choices automakers will face will be which battery cells to use. Batteries are the most expensive part of an EV and play a crucial role in determining how the car performs when it comes to range, acceleration, and longevity. 

UBS ranked seven EV cells made by major battery firms by evaluating each on a number of criteria related to their technology, materials, price, and manufacturing process to determine which is best overall.

These are the seven cells UBS judged, how they fared in each category, and the features UBS thought were most noteworthy. Each cell's capacity is measured in amp hours (Ah).

7. BYD 105 Ah

Type of cell: Prismatic

Vehicle that uses the cell: BYD Song EV

Technology and materials rank: 7

Cost rank: 6

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 7

UBS' analysis: "Due to the low specific capacity of NMC-111 (150 mAh/g), the cathode active material is expensive on kWh level and makes up the major part of the material costs. Anode material costs are relatively high with artificial and natural graphite blend with almost equal share of active material and current collector foil. The separator is two sided Al2O3 coating, and a very thin polymer film. This is slightly more expensive than others on the market without coating. High share of passive materials such as plastics, leads to high housing costs with a share of 13%.

"From EDX measurement we see 1) traces of copper are visible in the anode active material; 2) NMC-111 shows an inhomogeneous particle size distribution."

6. Samsung 94 Ah

Type of cell: Prismatic

Vehicle that uses the cell: BMW i3

Technology and materials rank: 5

Cost rank: 5

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 6

UBS' analysis: "Cathode active material (NMC 111) is expensive on kWh level und makes up the major part of the material costs. The high share of cathode active material on total cell cost level causes a significant price sensitivity. Anode material costs are equally split between active material and current collector foil, with additional expenses for functional material (Al 2 O3 coating). Complex housing and rather low energy density of cell lead to a housing cost share which is clearly above average. Amount of electrolyte higher than for competitive cells and thus increased cost share of the total cell."

5. CATL 70 Ah

Type of cell: Prismatic

Vehicle that uses the cell: None cited in UBS report

Technology and materials rank: 6

Cost rank: 7

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 5

UBS' analysis: "The use of sophisticated core shell material increases the cost of cathode compared to similar NMC 622. Anode costs rather low through the application of natural graphite with almost equal distribution between active material and current collector foil. The cell contained an uncommonly great amount of electrolyte which explains the high cost share of 13%. Housing causes another 14% of total material costs which is in the expected range for prismatic BEV cells."

4. SKI 60 Ah

Type of cell: Prismatic

Vehicle that uses the cell: Kia Niro EV

Technology and materials rank: 4

Cost rank: 4

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 4

UBS' analysis: "The costs for cathode active material can be compensated on kWh basis but it still makes up the major part of direct material costs. Increased costs for thin current collector foil (6 μm), but a high amount of gravimetric loading leads to a higher proportion of active material costs. The cell has only one separator but double- sided boehmite coating leads to a relatively high share of separator costs for pouch cells. Standard electrolyte in a low amount leads to a low share of electrolyte costs. Lean housing design with only pouch foil, terminals and some fixation stripes minimizes the cost share to 4% in total.

"From EDX measurement we see 1) traces of aluminum are visible in the anode active material; 2) a 60:40 distribution of the NMC-111 blended with NMC-811 for cathode; 3) a double-sided boehmite (AlO(OH)) coating for separator."

3. CATL 180 Ah

Type of cell: Prismatic

Vehicle that uses the cell: Dongfeng's Venucia D60EV

Technology and materials rank: 3

Cost rank: 1

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 3

UBS' analysis: "With a high NMC-811 gravimetric loading level of about 345 g cm-2, a high amount of cathode active material is being used, resulting in a good balance between performance and material costs. Thin copper foil (6 μm) has slightly higher costs but due to the high gravimetric loading of anode active material leads to a higher share of active material costs. The share of the separator costs with special boehmite coating is similar to other cells. Very low amount of standard electrolyte decreases the cost share of the cell. Lean housing design (only low amount of plastic and tabs at the top) reduces the cost share for prismatic housing to 9% (6.28 USD/kWh) in total.

"From the X-ray CT analysis P3 detected 1) some dead space on the outer edges of the jelly rolls, 2) very tight stacking of the jelly rolls inside the prismatic case and 3) outer jelly rolls are slightly bent

"From EDX measurement we see 1) graphite as the main component for the anode active material is packed very densely and only shows a few spaces. 2) the spectra for the NMC-811 shows very nicely round shaped particles even though some cracks due to high pressure or much stress are visible."

2. LG Chem 60 Ah

Type of cell: Pouch

Vehicle that uses the cell: Chevrolet Bolt EV

Technology and materials rank: 2

Cost rank: 3

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 1

UBS' analysis: "Cathode is responsible for 64% of the total material costs; passive material and current collector foil only with minor shares. Thin collector foil (8 μm) and an artificial and natural graphite blend with high gravimetric loading on anode side lead to a relatively higher share active material costs. Lean housing design (only pouch foil with terminals and some fixation stripes) minimizes cost share to 4% (3.10 USD/kWh) in total.

"Relocation of the LG Chem 60 Ah pouch cell production to the site in Poland (Wroclaw) offers a cost reduction potential of ca. 7% manufacturing costs can be reduced by ca. 7 USD/kWh mainly due to lower labor costs. Similar effects can be expected for cell production in China."

1. Panasonic 4.8 Ah

Type of cell: Cylindrical

Vehicle that uses the cell: Tesla Model 3

Technology and materials rank: 1

Cost rank: 2

Manufacturing and supply-chain rank: 2

UBS' analysis: "Through the application of high capacity NCA with a very low Cobalt content, Tesla is able to reduce the cost share for its cathode material to 44%, which is far below competition and leads to a reduced risk of critical metal supply dependency. The active material on anode side captures a rather high share of total anode material costs due to the application of artificial graphite blends and SiOx. Cost share for separator (6%) similar to other cells; amount of electrolyte very low, which decreases cost share additionally. Attributable to small size (more housing per active material than for bigger cells) and round cell format, the cost share of housing is well above average (16%)."

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