In 2020, Tesla announced its newest battery cell, the 4680-type. It featured a massive body (nearly 5x the size of the next type down) and a new internal design that allows it to quickly and safely transfer energy through the battery. Unsurprisingly, this cell made big news, and automakers are scrambling to keep up.
Right now, most car manufacturers use a standard NCM battery cell; with excellent capacity, it meets the demands of consumers. But the NCA composition threatens to make it obsolete with a much superior lifespan. Continue reading for how NCA and NCM match up.
NCA vs. NCM: A Side-by-Side Comparison
|Metals Used||Nickel, cobalt, and aluminum||Nickel, cobalt, and manganese|
|Composition Ratio||Ni: 84%, Co: 12%, Al: 4%||Ni: 33%, Co: 33%, Mn: 33%|
|Average Cost Per Cell||$70.40/kWh||$72.70/kWh|
|Associated Auto Companies||Tesla||Tesla, Ford, Chevrolet, Volvo, Lucid, Rivian, Nissan, BMW, GMC, Honda, Jaguar, Mercedes|
|Benefits||Longer life span||Longer range|
NCA vs. NCM: 5 Key Points and Must-Know Facts
- NCA and NCM refer to the chemical compositions of a lithium-ion battery’s cathode.
- NCM was developed in the late 1980s and has seen several transformations.
- NCA was developed in 2019 by Tesla and Panasonic.
- NCA is exclusive to Tesla for the time being.
- NCM is used in most electric vehicle models that are available today.
NCA vs. NCM: What’s the Difference?
In order to understand the differences between these two battery types, we have to explore what they are and how they’re used.
What is a Cathode?
Before we compare NCA and NCM batteries, we need to know what these abbreviations refer to. As both of these batteries use lithium-ion technology, understanding the major components will help us grasp the importance of the differences.
A lithium-ion battery is made up of four essential parts: a cathode, an anode, a separator, and electrolytes.
The anode allows electric current to flow into the cathode, where chemical reactions between lithium and heavy metal take place. A separator keeps the two components from touching while allowing lithium ions to pass through with the aid of electrolytes. Separating the ions allows for the electrons to pass through a wire, which generates electricity.
In lithium-ion batteries, the metal composition of the cathode determines various qualities, such as capacity and voltage. This makes the material metal critical in its design. So, when referring to lithium-ion battery types, you’ll likely see the cathode composition abbreviation.
In 2019, Tesla and Panasonic came together to address the life expectancy issue in traditional lithium-ion batteries. It had become a trend to reduce the cobalt content and replace it with more nickel, dropping the price of materials. However, without the hard metal to add durability, batteries were becoming less and less stable.
Their answer to the problem was to swap out standard manganese with aluminum. While less dense than its counterpart, aluminum has a quality of hardening after a certain amount of degradation, allowing it to last much longer. Research suggests that batteries with a Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum-Oxygen (NCA) composition can last upwards of 40 years under appropriate conditions.
Not only does the aluminum content help prevent deterioration, but it also allows for the cathode to have as much as 84% nickel content. This makes it much more affordable to manufacture compared to other nickel-rich batteries.
Due to its very recent discovery, Tesla is the only EV manufacturer using NCA batteries. They’ve partnered with Panasonic to develop this innovative composition and currently use it in new Model 3s and Model Ys. The company also plans on using them in their Cybertrucks and Semis.
When lithium-ion technology really took off in the 80s, the major problem was energy density; the batteries just couldn’t hold very much power. So, developers experimented with metal compositions in their cathodes and discovered that nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC or NCM) was exceptionally better at storing energy, and the technology ran with it.
NCM batteries began with equal parts nickel, cobalt, and manganese (NCM333 or NCM111). However, environmental and social concerns started growing over where manufacturers were sourcing cobalt. It became public knowledge that the largest cobalt mines, found in Congo, were using hazardous mining practices—including child labor. These concerns, in conjunction with incredibly high prices, influenced developers to experiment with new compositions.
Manufacturers found that nickel was great primary material, being affordable and extremely conductive. We started seeing compositions with more and more nickel; NCM 523 used over 50% nickel and NCM 622 over 60%.
However, the metal lacks the density that cobalt has, and by the time developers reached NCM811, progress stopped. Consumers were demanding more and more range, and the NCM composition just couldn’t keep up. It was time to start looking for advanced battery technology.
At this point, NCM batteries have reached their pinnacle. However, with over 30 years of research and development behind them, they still prove a useful design. And it’s because of all this research that most EV manufacturers still invest in them.
NCM batteries also happen to be the most produced lithium-ion option available (next to lithium-iron-phosphate). It’s as simple as this: if one option is vastly easier to get ahold of, you’re going to use it. We likely won’t see NCM fade from electric vehicles for some time.
NCA vs. NCM: Which is Better?
As far as your choices go when choosing between NCA and NCM, you’re pretty limited. NCA compositions indeed have longevity where NCM lacks, but most auto manufacturers don’t have access to them.
So your options come with the vehicle you choose. If you’re dead set on having a battery that is eco-friendly and will last for decades, you’ll either have to purchase a Tesla or wait until the end of the decade. However, you won’t go wrong with NCM, as they have a great range and will still last up to 10 years. These batteries come pretty standardly in just about every EV on the market.
For more on EV tech, as well as the latest in spaceflight, check out these articles:
- 4680 Battery: Everything You Need to Know
- Which Batteries Is Tesla Using in Each Model Today?
- SpaceX’s Starship Rocket: Specs, Size, History, and More
- The Top 5 Fastest Charging Electric Cars