The many advantages of electric vehicle (EV) technology, as well as the rapid technological advancements that have pushed EVs into the mainstream, have redefined the automotive industry in the past decade. The appeal of zero tailpipe emissions and replacing gasoline with electrons has made EV adoption an essential objective for fighting climate change while reducing oil consumption, and our industry is rising to meet the challenge. As many policymakers have embraced the societal benefits of electric vehicles, drivers have been delighted by newer models with longer ranges, shorter recharge times, greater utility, and unmatched acceleration. These capabilities also enable EV drivers to adventure in wild places and reconnect with nature without contributing to local air pollution.
As EV technology has proliferated, important questions have surfaced about how we will meet growing demand for electric vehicle batteries. Specifically, the industry must face the challenge of sourcing critical minerals for which existing commercial supplies are concentrated in countries that may lack adequate labor protections, environmental safeguards, or transparency.
As always, innovation offers a path forward. Lithium-ion has been the predominant battery chemistry for electric vehicles and personal devices so far, but it’s just one of many viable battery chemistries. Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries demonstrate that new chemistries can be paired with the right use-case to create a win-win for manufacturers and drivers. This chemistry is still relatively young, but notably does not require cobalt or nickel, and is manufactured from safer and more abundantly available minerals. Current LFP technology is ideal for applications where lower costs, safety, and extended durability are prioritized over incremental range gains and extreme high-performance. As Rivian’s commercial vehicle technology evolves, we are focused on just a few of these advantages:
Many medium and heavy-duty (MHD) commercial vehicles are the perfect use-case for LFP. MHD vehicles comprise just 10 percent of vehicles on the road but contribute a startling 25 percent of all transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, according to recent EPA estimates. The disproportionate carbon emissions from the sector are dwarfed by criteria pollutants: MHD vehicles contribute more than 60 percent of tailpipe nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) and particulate matter (“PM”). In 2020, approximately 60 percent of those NOx and PM emissions occurred in urban areas, typically concentrated around freeways, ports, and warehouses.
Since MHD vehicles often spend a significant amount of time idling, electrifying these vehicle classes is essential to reduce unhealthy emissions in urban areas, protecting the health of both workers and local residents. The societal benefits are significant: A 2021 study by EDF found that eliminating tailpipe emissions from new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2040 could provide up to $485 billion in health and environmental benefits as a result of pollution reductions.
Like all technologies, LFP batteries have pros and cons. For example, this technology does not currently offer the energy intensity of other battery chemistries—but historically rapid acceleration and 400+ miles of range are not necessary for all vehicle applications. LFP batteries also hold unique potential for second life applications. After several years of usage, vehicle batteries may no longer offer their original range but can still offer valuable storage capacity. Because they offer more charge cycles throughout their lifetimes, LFP batteries are better suited for use in stationary storage than other chemistries. Furthermore, battery engineers are just scratching the surface of recycling technologies to create a circular economy for battery minerals. Second-life and end-of-life recycling is a dramatic improvement over petroleum fuels, which are extracted, refined, and combusted into the atmosphere with no possibility for recycling.
As batteries and electric motors proliferate in applications from e-bikes to tractor trailers, industry must continue research and development of new chemistries to find other win-win scenarios like LFP batteries in commercial vehicles.