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The battery demand for nickel creates supply bottlenecks and problem shifts, and increasing emissions


Nickel has historically been a major metal with established supply chains, mainly to produce stainless-steel. However, the demand for nickel is rapidly increasing due to its use in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, creating pressure on the different stages of the supply chain of this critical raw material.
This work considers different scenarios for supply and demand of nickel in batteries and non-battery applications up to 2050. Using a demand-driven supply-constrained dynamic material flow model, we analyse how the growing demand for nickel to batteries can be met in the future, the potential bottlenecks in the supply chain, and the consequences on GHG emissions from different nickel mining and refining production routes.

We did not identify major risks of supply disruption for nickel. However, our results show large variation in characteristics of production routes. And that the production routes that are faster to develop, like nickel pig iron (NPI) smelting, are also the ones that have the highest carbon footprint. Therefore, a fast transition to electric vehicles using nickel-rich chemistries is likely to lead to an increase in GHG emissions from nickel production and/or to capture some of the production used in other sectors, mainly stainless-steel.

Policies are currently being developed to address this issue. For instance, the new EU battery regulation aims at limiting the carbon footprint of batteries and increasing their recycled content. Unfortunately, such measures might shift, bury or even increase the problem by incentivising competition for “green” nickel in certain applications, instead of addressing the underlying issue - a rapidly increasing overall demand for nickel is likely to be met with carbon intensive production routes. We show that a targeted reduction in the carbon footprint of batteries can potentially be achieved at the expense of other product categories or world regions, which does not help mitigating global emissions. Furthermore, recycled content targets for batteries could encourage the use of stainless-steel scrap to produce recycled nickel for batteries, a less efficient use from a systemic perspective than recycling steel to steel and could lead to an overall increase in emissions.

This work highlights the potential for modelling global element cycles with demand-driven supply-constrained dynamic material flow analysis models to uncover systemic impacts and risks of problem shifts associated with fast transitions.


Academic lecture


  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 299334




  • Eric Young
  • Romain Guillaume Billy
  • Fernando Aguilar Lopez
  • Daniel Beat Mueller


  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Presented at

ISIE2023 - 11th International Conference on Industrial Ecology


Leiden, Netherlands


02.07.2023 - 05.07.2023


International Society for Industrial Ecology



View this publication at Cristin