Should You Hurry and Buy an EV Before the Upcoming Lithium Shortage?

Experts are warning of a looming lithium shortage threatening to drive electric vehicle prices sky high. It might be wise to invest in an EV sooner rather than later. That said, non-lithium battery options offer enough power density to keep building low-cost hybrid electric vehicles.

Will the price of Lithium-ion batteries increase?

Thanks to an increasingly efficient lithium supply chain and Lithium-ion battery construction techniques, the average price of Li-ion batteries is dropping. But as EV production increases, some experts project a lithium shortage will soon increase the price of Li-ion batteries.

Excavator digging through piles of white lithium powder at the Salar de Atacama mine in Bolivia.
Bolivian lithium mine | Oliver Llaneza Hesse/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

RELATED: Will Lithium-Ion EV Batteries Get Cheaper or More Expensive?

The problem isn’t a lack of lithium on the planet, its a lack of lithium mines. Until recently the Lithium-ion battery supply chain built relatively small batteries for the consumer electronics industry. As EVs become more and more popular, the automotive industry requires more lithium for its battery production.

This increased demand is stretching the existing lithium mines to the limit. According to Yahoo News, it can take a decade to get a new lithium mine operational. While new mines are on the horizon, it will be a long time before they ease the pressure on current mines. In the meantime, the demand for EVs increases every year. It is likely that Li-ion batteries will get more expensive before, eventually, getting cheaper. And if you are considering buying a vehicle with an Li-ion battery, you should know that this price hike could last for years.

Will a lithium shortage make EVs more expensive?

If increased demand for EVs, and thus Lithium-ion batteries, outstrips our current lithium mining capabilities, we’ll suffer from a lithium shortage. This will make Lithium-ion batteries more expensive, and thus will make EVs more expensive.

Closeup of assembled Lithium-ion cells at the Xinwangda Electric Vehicle Battery Co., uniformed workers visible in the background.
Chinese Li-ion EV battery factory | STR/AFP via Getty Images

The chief technology officer for Mercedes-Benz, Markus Schäfer, warns that EVs may get more expensive. He predicts that EVs as inexpensive as current combustion vehicles will require him to build batteries for $50/kWh. But Mercedes is still chasing the $100/kWh mark.

The current price of lithium makes EVs–before tax incentives–at least twice as expensive to produce as internal combustion cars. If EV demand increases and the price of lithium goes up, the price difference between EVs and regular cars could become even larger.

Can you build a hybrid vehicle without lithium-ion batteries?

Many hybrid vehicles use no lithium at all, such as multiple Toyotas. Even during a lithium shortage caused by increased EV demand, automakers could still build and sell hybrid vehicles.

Closeup of the front headlight of a black Tesla electric vehicle charging its Lithium-ion battery at a supercharger visible in the background.
German Tesla supercharger |  Sean Gallup via Getty Images

Toyota builds all of its full-size Tundra hybrid trucks with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries instead of Li-ion batteries. The automaker has also been careful to engineer at least one variation of its Prius, in each Prius generation, with an NiMH battery.

The chief engineer of the Toyota Prius, Shoichi Kaneko, revealed to Green Car Reports that the automaker is already preparing for a Lithium-ion shortage. To this end, Toyota has plans to build every existing hybrid with a NiMH battery, pivoting away from Li-ion if necessary.

Swapping from Li-ion to NiMH would increase a Prius battery pack’s weight from 132 pounds to 165 pounds and increase its volume by 20 percent. It might not be an ideal battery chemistry, but it would keep production rolling in the face of a lithium shortage. Toyota’s plug-in hybrid vehicles–lust like full battery electric vehicles–might prove more difficult to produce. So if you are considering a PHEV or an EV, know that they might be about to get a lot more expensive.

Next, find out if you’ll be able to swap to a Li-ion Prius battery later.

RELATED: Is a Nickel Metal Hydride (Nimh) Hybrid Battery Actually Worse?