2022 Ford F-150 Lightning’s Battery Tech Uses Less Rare MetalSK Innovation’s low-cobalt battery boosts safety, energy density, and environmental and cultural sensitivity.See all 76 photosFrank MarkusAuthorManufacturerPhotographerSteven PhamPhotographerMay 20, 2021

We still don’t know how big the batteries will be that power the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning to 230 or 300 miles, but today we learned a bit more about the chemistry they’ll use, and the new joint venture that will build them. Even better, it’s a novel chemistry that’s good news on the safety, energy-density, environmental, and even human rights fronts.

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SK Innovation has developed a new battery cathode that uses 90 percent nickel, and just 5 percent each of manganese and cobalt. The high nickel content helps deliver great energy density while the low cobalt content reduces the environmental and ethical problems involved with cobalt mining (at least until commercial harvesting of polymetallic nodules from the abyssal seafloor begins).

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And the batteries using this chemistry to power the Ford F-150 Lightning will be produced by a newly announced joint venture between Ford and SKI, called BlueOvalSK, which hopes to have facilities up and running by mid-decade. The operation will have the capability to produce 60 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of batteries, with potential to expand in the future. Ford expects its total North American electric vehicle production will demand 140 GWh of batteries and predicts its global demand will hit 240 GWh.

This decision to vertically integrate its EV supply chain by investing in battery production marks a stark turn-around. As recently as a year ago, previous CEO Jim Hackett expressed reluctance to invest in technology that was so rapidly evolving, citing Toyota’s investment in nickel-metal-hydride, which became obsolete when lithium-ion emerged as the best technology. When asked about the abrupt turnaround, chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang noted a change in priorities under new CEO Jim Farley, and also pointed out that the solid-state technology Ford and BMW are investing in with Solid Power, which promises to be the next big thing in batteries, can be manufactured in the same plants currently producing «wet» lithium-ion cells utilizing 70 percent of the same equipment.

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This latest joint venture, the Solid Power equity investment, the recent opening of the new Ion Park global battery center of excellence, and a $185 million investment in a new collaborative learning lab in Southeast Michigan (dedicated to developing, testing and building vehicle batteries that is scheduled to open late next year) are all steps in Ford’s journey toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner.