New battery strategy for Daimler Trucks

In reflecting on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when grocery store shelves were stripped bare and scuffles broke out over the last roll of toilet paper, a similar scenario may be on the horizon as the automotive industry shifts towards electric vehicles. However, this time, it’s not about toilet paper but rather the materials essential for manufacturing batteries, albeit hopefully without the physical altercations.

For those not deeply versed in the intricacies of science, here’s the gist: many electric vehicle (EV) batteries rely on scarce elements like nickel and cobalt. As the demand for EV batteries rises, there’s concern that costs could surge. To preempt this issue, companies like Daimler Trucks based in Germany are taking proactive measures. They intend to transition their battery chemistry to a formula that excludes nickel and cobalt, thereby enhancing durability and mitigating competition with the passenger car segment for these materials.

Daimler Trucks, catering to the European market, plans to gradually adopt new lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries developed in collaboration with Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), a Chinese battery manufacturer and technology firm. Both iron and phosphate are more readily available for mining compared to other battery components.

Aside from reduced competition, Daimler Truck’s strategy offers other benefits. LFP battery cells are approximately 30% cheaper than nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) cells. Moreover, they operate at lower temperatures, reducing the risk of combustion.

However, there are trade-offs. NMC batteries boast higher energy density, translating to greater range. Nonetheless, this disparity is less significant for trucks, which can accommodate larger batteries compensating for the lower energy density of LFP chemistry. Daimler Truck’s new design, developed with CATL, doubles the active energy-storing material in a battery pack to 70-80%. Additionally, LFP batteries exhibit superior longevity, experiencing less degradation after numerous cycles of use.

Daimler may face competition from the passenger car sector. Despite the limitations of alternative batteries, certain car manufacturers like Tesla, Volvo, and Ford are beginning to adopt LFP technology for select vehicles. Due to their cost-effectiveness, LFP batteries are an attractive option for entry-level EVs, potentially capturing a significant portion of the EV battery market by the latter half of the 2020s.

Alongside the announcement of its new battery strategy, Daimler Trucks unveiled the Mercedes-Benz Trucks eActros Long Haul Class 8 truck, slated for production in 2024 with the new LFP batteries. Sporting a range of approximately 300 miles, it’s a promising addition to the electric vehicle landscape.