China’s 2021 EV sales beat global 2020 total

Elizabeth Kerr

  • The global electric vehicle (EV) demand is surging
  • Today there are roughly 16 million active EVs majority of which are Chinese

The last decade has witnessed tremendous growth in global electric vehicle (EV) sales. From about 130K EV units sold in 2012, today, up to 16M of these are in active service worldwide. Part of that growth is due to declining prices of lithium-ion battery packs that are crucial to powering them. Additionally, there’s been an increase in global consciousness on sustainable transport means.

BanklessTimes has been researching the global EV sales trends. In a recent data projection, the site indicates that the global EV sales hit the 6.6M mark in 2021. That figure represents roughly 9% of global car sales in that year. Additionally, it’s double the 3M EVs sold in 2020 and triple the 2.2M units sold in 2019.

Further, BanklessTimes reckons that the annual electricity consumption of the 16M EVs plying our roads is about 30 terawatt-hours (TWh). That’s equal to Ireland’s electricity generation yearly. These are an important ally in the fight against CO2 emissions as they have cut down consumption of fossil fuels.

China Leads in EV adoption

BanklessTimes’ compilation shows December as the month that attracted the most EV sales. Across the three leading EV markets, December’s sales more than doubled January’s. Again, 2021 monthly EV retails outdid 2020’s corresponding months’ figures by at least 50%.

The data shows that China is the largest EV market in the world. In 2021, it retailed 3.4M units. That was more than the combined total from the rest of the world in 2020. To get there, it had nearly tripled that year’s sales.

China has been at the fore of EV adoption for a while now. From 2015, it has had the fastest yearly increases in that space. Its EV market is on course to meet the government-set target of 20% share of yearly motor vehicle production by 2025.

Why’s the Chinese market booming?

Several reasons explain China’s thriving EV market. First, Beijing extended subsidies to the sector up to this year. The chances are that many Chinese EV customers rushed to acquire their vehicles using 2021’s subsidy levels that are way higher than this year’s.

Secondly, there’s a wide variety of EVs for the Chinese market. Like the Wuling Hongguang Mini, some provide an affordable entry-level vehicle for first-time owners. All in all, China’s e-car industry will boom in 2022.

EU EV sales outpaced diesel vehicles

Europe, the second most significant EV market, also posted impressive returns. According to BanklessTimes’ presentation, its 2021 electric vehicle sales amounted to 2.3M cars. However, the annual increase lagged compared to 2020’s.

In 2020 the European EV market doubled its 2019 sales. Strict emissions limits that the region adopted partly account for this surge. Again, most of the region enhanced their incentives for purchasing EVs.

Consequently, their sales peaked in Q4 2021, attaining a 21% market share in December that year, outpacing diesel-powered vehicles for the first time.

Tesla dominates the U.S EV market

The U.S electric vehicle market also posted encouraging results. It sold over 500K units, more than doubling 2019 results. That saw the U.S EV market grow to 4.5%.

Tesla remains the undisputed market leader here. It controls more than 50% of all electronic vehicles sold here. That, however, is a decline from the 65% market share it held in 2020. Increased competition in this space partly contributed to the decline.

Global EV sales have, however, been lagging. Today, electric cars account for under 2% of their total sales in markets outside the three dominant ones. This is in part due to the expensiveness of EVs and them having an inadequate charging infrastructure.

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Speculative bubbles in the price of lithium put energy transition and electric mobility at risk

Uncertainty in the price of this mineral may risk the future supply of this essential component for electric vehicles. The involvement of external agents in the market could hinder decision-making and limit investment by mining and production companies, negatively affecting the manufacture of batteries.

The instability and volatility of the price of lithium in the international market may hinder the energy transition, especially electric mobility. This uncertainty could also hamper the future supply of this essential component for the manufacture of batteries. “The prices of lithium, one of the most important minerals at present for the energy transition and the transport sector, are not very stable, and there is evidence of a significant presence of speculative bubbles,” said Jorge M. Uribe, a member of the UOC‘s Faculty of Economics and Business, leader of the Finance, Macroeconomics and Management (FM2) group and lead author of this work together with other experts from the University of Barcelona and Colombia’s Universidad del Valle.

“We tend to think that prices reflect the market’s situation and that they automatically adjust to supply and demand, but this is not always the case. In the case of lithium, the situation is very delicate, because this mineral is essential to enabling the energy transition towards more sustainable and less polluting models in the mobility and transport sector. Without lithium, there is no way for electric vehicles to thrive and replace combustion vehicles,” Uribe said.

In the last decade, lithium has become a highly prized mineral worldwide. It is currently the main component of electric vehicle batteries and is gaining importance in systems that store energy from the stationary market (i.e. buildings and residential properties). “Currently, no technology is as efficient as lithium-based technologies for the production of batteries at a reasonable cost. That’s why this mineral is more important every day, especially in the transport sector and in the transition to electric vehicles,” explained Uribe. He also added that, even in stationary power generation, renewable energies (i.e. solar and wind power) are not able to produce energy at specific times due to the climate conditions, which means that “energy storage is a global priority today and will increasingly be so”.  

Complexity of the lithium market

Unlike those of other raw materials, the lithium market is fully globalised and suffers significant price fluctuations, often without any apparent cause and for reasons unknown to the agents involved in the sector. “We have found a very synchronized presence of several bubbles simultaneously with the lithium bubbles. This is probably due to the financial influence and the presence of agents that deal not just with lithium but rather invest in several markets,” Uribe said. The volatility and uncertainty generated by these bubbles could affect the introduction of electric vehicles as well as new transport models.

The instability of lithium prices can make planning difficult because, faced with volatile prices, companies will not make important investments until they have assurance that the price and cost is real and stable, that they are responding to fundamental market rules rather than speculation, or very short-term factors. “The existence of a bubble in the lithium market delays all the implementations and progress made in the sector. For example, a company that wants to make an investment today is likely to prefer to wait two years to see how the market stabilizes and make sure that we are not in a bubble,” said Uribe. In the case of Spain, the situation may become even more complex, as energy transition and sustainable mobility plans have been designed with short or medium-term actions in mind. “Spain is more vulnerable than other nations outside Europe because its proposal for energy transition is very ambitious,” he said.  

Proposals to avoid speculation

To avoid the volatility of lithium prices and possible lithium bubbles, the authors of the study propose the adoption of measures such as stabilisation funds and the creation of capital reserves. These strategies reduce the risks for producers, regularising the market. “These funds should ideally be in portfolios such as for example, global gold-like stock markets. This guarantees a minimum price and removes the uncertainty of a sudden rise or collapse of the bubbles,” he said.

Similarly, it is also necessary to design medium- and long-term planning by governments and large companies in the sector, with the aim of providing greater security and diversifying the operational risks inherent to the lithium market. “If no measures are adopted, there is a significant risk, as prices can fall very abruptly, causing lithium shortages,” concluded Uribe.  


Uribe, Jorge M. et al. “Price Bubbles in Lithium Markets around the World”. IREA – Working Papers, 2021, IR21/10.  

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The difference between lithium iron and lithium-ion, and why it matters

Lithium iron phosphate batteries are part of a group of batteries called lithium-ion batteries. Specifying that a battery is a lithium iron, or lithium iron phosphate, battery implies a host of characteristics which are important when choosing a battery type and provider, says REVOV co-founder and engineering director, Felix von Bormann.

Lithium iron phosphate batteries (LiFePO4, or as some refer to it, LFP) have many advantages, says Von Bormann. “Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have a great energy density and lifecycle, a stable chemistry all while maintaining high thermal runaway and resulting in a long life at low costs.”

Lithium-ion batteries are secondary cells created from layers of lithium packed with an electrolyte. A lithium battery is formed by four important components namely the cathode, anode, electrolyte, and separator.

The cathode, a positive electrode, determines the capacity and voltage of the battery and is the source of lithium ions. The anode, a negative electrode, stores the lithium ions when the battery is charged and enables the electric current to flow through an external circuit. The electrolyte is formed of salts, solvents, and additives and serves as the channel of lithium ions between the cathode and anode while the separator is the physical barrier that keeps the cathode and anode apart.

The cathode is a metal oxide, and the anode consists of porous carbon thus during discharge the ions flow from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte and the separator, when charging the battery, the reverse happens the ions flow from the cathode to the anode.

Lithium-ion batteries come in many varieties, although remarkably similar on the surface these batteries vary in performance and the selection of active materials gives them distinctive qualities. There are six main versions of Lithium-ion batteries namely Lithium Cobalt Oxide, Lithium Manganese Oxide, Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide, Lithium Iron Phosphate, Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminium Oxide and Lithium Titanate.

The cathode is what differentiates each battery. For example, the Lithium Cobalt Dioxide is made with a LiCoO2 cathode while the Lithium Iron Phosphate battery is made with LiFePO4 as the cathode. This means that there is a technical difference between Lithium-ion and speaking about Lithium Iron. Lithium-ion references the mode of electrical transfer inside the battery, where ions travelling in the electrolyte are lithium. Lithium Iron is a subset of the family of Lithium-ion batteries.

Despite the characteristics they have in common, the different Lithium-ion systems and Lithium Iron batteries are different in terms of their stability, life span and application. Lithium Iron Phosphate has a high current rating and long cycle life, it is more tolerant to full charge conditions and is less stressed than other lithium-ion systems. It has a specific energy of 90/120 watt-hours per kilogram, a nominal voltage of 3.20V/3.30Va, a charge rate of 1C, and a discharge rate of 1-2,5C.

Von Bormann says Lithium Iron Phosphate loses some distance in terms of specific energy per kilogramme, “However, this is not important in a stationary application where weight is less important. The Lithium Iron Phosphate cell is superior in terms of safety and price, over other Lithium-ion battery chemistry, and typically has a higher life expectancy and a higher specific power,” he says.

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Plugging into the reality of 2nd LiFe batteries: second life is not second-hand

“A 2nd LiFe Battery is not second-hand. A 2nd LiFe battery has been repurposed and the cells have had their life extended by being applied to less strenuous operating conditions.”

A pioneer in the sector, REVOV, has been developing and supplying 2nd LiFe storage battery systems in South Africa and neighbouring countries for four and a half years. Not only is an investment in second life technology the environmentally prudent thing to do, but it makes sense from a performance and price perspective and international players have discovered this.

After a few years electric (EV) batteries are replaced with new ones because the weight of the battery in the car no longer justifies its performance. However, when the cells are repurposed for storage batteries, there is a compelling solution to preventing huge numbers of batteries being dumped into landfills.

The concept and application is gaining traction around the globe, and bolster’s REVOV’s resolve. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) said Relectrify, which has been working with American Electric Power and Nissan North America on a pilot project, will now finalise development and undertake certifications ahead of the deployment of 20 ReVolve battery units across C&I applications throughout Australia.

In order to understand what it is that REVOV and its international counterparts are seeing in 2nd LiFe, we delve a little deeper to understand the science behind these batteries particularly now that load shedding is once again on every South African’s agenda.

We asked REVOV MD Lance Dickerson to plug us into the reality of 2nd LiFE batteries and what they are:

Please go into a little detail of why automotive grade batteries are so transferable to storage?

Automotive grade cells are manufactured specifically for use in the very harsh environment of a motor vehicle. This includes being mobile, subjected to vibrations continuously, high temperatures and to high charge and discharge currents in the effort to optimise charge time vs distance vs speed.

Stationary storage applications change this high throughput requirement, and optimise the requirement to provide a lower throughput over a longer period of time, significantly enhancing the life expectancy of the once automotive battery.

In which circumstances in daily use will this come in handy, or will the owner notice these benefits?

Typically a backup storage battery is dimensioned to provide power throughout the night, around 10 hours or more, or at worst for at least the four hours of load shedding we all have come to love.  The battery, dimensioned to provide 10 hours of backup, is only typically running at 1/10th of its maximum output which lends itself to an extended life, and an optimal cost per kWh.

Effectively, an automotive grade cell running at less than 1/10th of its design potential can obviously be expected to last longer than originally planned

Let’s compare 2nd LiFe Lithium-iron to other types of batteries. What are you prepared to say, if anything?

Firstly, Any Lithium Iron Phosphate cell is superior in terms of safety, over any other Lithium Ion battery chemistry, and typically has a higher life expectancy and a higher specific power. It loses some distance in terms of specific energy per kg, however, this is not important in a stationary application where weight is less important.

Secondly, an automotive grade 2nd LiFe Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, used in a stationary storage application, is subjected to charge and discharge currents that are significantly lower than its design capability. This reduced stress translates into a non-linear improvement in terms of cycle life, easily providing the same lifespan as a new battery specifically designed to provide stationary storage only, at a much-reduced cost.

When we say a battery is repurposed (2nd LiFe). What does this specifically mean?

A 2nd LiFe battery can take on a number of different shapes and sizes. If the battery is removed from the vehicle and found to be in exceptional condition it can be used as is, in a mostly 12v configuration, at medium-to-low charge and discharge rates. The only addition would be an external battery management system which would ensure the battery cells are protected from excessive charge and discharge currents and voltages and ensure the cells inside the battery remain balanced.

Most often the capacities and voltage combinations used in modern EVs are not suitable for the modern 48VDC renewable energy system. Most 2nd LiFe battery cells are unpacked from the vehicle battery casings and packed into formats that suit their usage in the environments they are being destined to. This requires new components in every part of the battery except the battery cell itself.

As an example, a very popular format is the 19-inch rack-mountable size, allowing them to be mounted easily in cheap IT-type cabinets. 2nd LiFe can be packaged into almost any shape, size, capacity and for any application, you can imagine. Easily packaged into tubular shapes for mounting around poles at height, into thin wide arrangements to fit behind 4×4 seats for auxiliary power whilst camping, into small cubes to fit into UPSs created for rectangular Lead Acid batteries, and almost any other use you can think of.

In your words, what is the difference between 2nd LiFe and second hand (if there is more to it than above)?

A 2nd LiFe battery has been used in a motor vehicle, or mobile application specifically as a primary source of power to drive the vehicle. Its 2nd LiFe is engaged when the battery has lost approximately 20% of its original capacity, and due to weight being an issue in a mobile application, its purpose is changed to become mostly a secondary power source, storing energy generated by renewable sources or Eskom Grid power. This energy is stored and then used at a reasonably mediocre rate to provide power when renewables such as wind and sun are not available or to provide backup power for periods longer than two hours.

This process effectively extends the life of the battery giving it what we term a 2nd LiFe.

In contrast, a second-hand battery would be a storage battery used to provide storage for a time, uninstalled and re-installed to perform the same function in another location. Nothing in this process extends its life or changes the conditions under which it operates and it will simply last as long as originally planned.

What is the lifespan of 2nd LiFe in cycles and years?

Due to the reduced stress, and the history provided with a 2nd LiFe battery, by the vehicle BMS, lifespan is easily predicted forward.

Most 2nd LiFe batteries were originally designed with a life expectancy of 6 000 to 7 000 cycles in an automotive primary power source application and applied into 2nd LiFe applications once they have endured 1 500 to 2 000 cycles in a vehicle.

This means they still have a life expectancy of another 4 to 5 000 cycles under the same conditions as in the vehicle. But stationary storage reduces the stresses on the battery cells enormously from their design capability and hence the life span of the 5 to 6000 additional cycles is easily met.

In REVOV batteries – which components are brand new in the 2nd LiFe batteries – electronics, cases, display etc?

The only component inside a REVOV battery which is not new is the actual battery cell. From the busbars interconnecting cells, to the monitoring harnesses, cables, and sensors, casing, connectors, screws, and bolts, all are new. The Battery Management System used is specifically designed for the 2nd LiFe cells and is not the same system used in the vehicle either.

What are some of the biggest REVOV 2nd LiFe installations you are aware of, and were they used for UPS or renewable setups?

We currently have a number of REVOV 2nd LiFe installations exceeding 320kWh, these are in total off-grid applications where the customer has disconnected Eskom or doesn’t have reliable access to Eskom, to similar size units which provide UPS functionality in case of Eskom failure. These are typically in the 48V nominal range, and 300-350 kWh is really the limit that a low voltage (48VDC) installation should be built at. Larger than that the requirement for larger conductors becomes critical, and installation becomes impractical.

The vast majority of our installations and applications are between 10kWh and 100kwh. We are currently working on some much larger applications, but these will ultimately use a High Voltage setup and design, where the batteries are connected in series to reach voltages up to the 800VDC range, this, in turn, has a significant effect in terms of ease of installation and cable sizes and costs.

Watch this space carefully as REVOV launches the first 2nd LiFe HVDC battery product in Africa in the next few months.

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Lithium-ion batteries offers an electrifying opportunity for South Africa

The global move to low-carbon transportation options, such as electrical vehicles (EVs), brings battery technologies to the fore. This provides unique opportunities for policy makers and local producers to explore South Africa’s competitive advantage in the lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) value chain.

This emerged as a key theme from a study on opportunities to develop the lithium-ion battery value chain in South Africa, initiated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic) as one of the deliverables of the Low Carbon Transport project in South Africa. A report on the study, which was conducted by Trade and Investment Policies (TIPS) on behalf of the project, was launched today during a side event of the Africa Energy Indaba.

According to Gerhard Fourie, the dtic’s Chief Director of Green Industries, the report is intended to “feed into the broader debate around low-carbon transport, green industrial development and policy shifts in terms of the development of the EV value chain. The increased prominence of EVs entering the market is mentioned in the report, highlighting battery technologies as an important component of sustainable development. In view of the commitment of government and industry to ensure the country retains the position of the local automotive manufacturing value chain as a key player in the mobility of the future, the study investigated the potential for a South African lithium-ion battery (LIB) value chain.”

Fourie adds that “every stage of the LIB value chain was therefore investigated with the aim of identifying the country’s existing and potential competitive advantage. In addition, the TIPS research team sought to answer a number of questions, such as: can the country develop new capabilities relevant to the battery value chain? Should the country focus on specific segments of the value chain or work to build a complete value chain domestically? And finally, acknowledging that the country has the minerals required for the production of batteries, does South Africa and other African countries have the potential to build on their natural resources to support mining and beneficiation?”

What emerged is that there is a “vibrant value chain”, but not all stages are at the same level of development. The report points out that “mining of multiple LIB-relevant minerals, such as manganese, iron ore, nickel and titanium, is already underway in the country and the region. Mineral beneficiation for battery production, while limited, is also present in the country, with existing pockets of excellence in manganese and aluminium and interesting developments in lithium, nickel and titanium. Importantly, battery manufacturing (off imported cells) and battery refurbishing (second-life batteries) is a booming opportunity with many firms operating in this space, leveraging unique expertise and intellectual property, notably in the development of battery management systems. By contrast, cell manufacturing, while explored at the R&D level, is yet to be proven commercially viable in the country. Similarly, the development of recycling is still early days in the country.”

Identifying where in the value chain South Africa is competitive is critical, so as to channel support and resources into the most sustainable activities. Based on the research, four possible technical pathways are proposed to support the development of the LIB value chain: 1) battery manufacturing 2) mineral refining; 3) cell manufacturing; and 4) battery recycling.

The study noted that developing battery manufacturing and mineral refining are ready for scale-up whilst cell manufacturing and recycling could be explored in the medium to long term, provided they prove to be economically sustainable. The report notes that where there are “key pockets of excellence” (battery manufacturing, mineral beneficiation and mining), efforts and resources should be focused on these activities. TIPS research leader Gaylor Montmasson-Clair stresses that “indeed, the development of the LIB value chain is a fantastic opportunity for South Africa, provided the country invests in its strengths and competitive advantages, rather than unsubstantiated aspirations.” 

The study pointed out that “an established LIB industry is instrumental to the local development of both the (renewable) energy and (electric) transport industries.” Hence, ensuring high levels of local content in renewable energy and automotive manufacturing will be dependent on localising the battery value chain as much as possible. In turn, strong partnerships and collaboration between public and private institutions as well as between local and international players is critical in growing the LIB value chain.

According to Dr Blanche Ting, Energy and Low Carbon Coordinator for UNIDO, it was noteworthy that the study also mentions the minerals beyond South Africa, particularly on the African continent.  Among SADC are graphite (Mozambique and Tanzania), nickel (Botswana, and Zimbabwe), titanium (Mozambique, Madagascar) amongst others.  Potential for regional industrial integration of these minerals notably though the implementation of the Southern African Development Community Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063, and the recent implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) should be explored. 

In moving forward, the report highlights that aside from identifying where in the entire LIB value chain South African industries are (or could be) competitive, a number of key components, such local testing and certification as well as access to funding for commercialisation of innovations, are required to establish an enabling policy framework for the development of the LIB value chain. In addition, facilitating access to markets, both domestically and globally, and shaping R&D and skills development in line with South Africa’s competitive advantage would play a large part in South Africa succeeding in developing the value chain.

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What’s on the Energy Storage Market Besides Lithium-ion Batteries, Asks IDTechEx Research

In this first part of a series of articles from IDTechEx, an overview of the flow batteries characteristics is provided, extrapolated from IDTechEx’s recent report “Redox Flow Battery 2020-2030: Forecast, Challenges, Opportunities“. 

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