MIT Research Shows Steep Decline in Lithium-ion Battery Costs

April 22, 2021 by Shannon Cuthrell

A new MIT study offers a multi-dimensional look at lithium-ion price trends since the early-1990s.

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that the cost of lithium-ion battery technologies has dropped by 97% since its commercial debut 30 years ago. 


MIT News. Graph image courtesy of MIT researchers
MIT News. Graph image courtesy of MIT researchers

The authors, Micah Ziegler and Jessika Trancik of MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society, aimed to explore comprehensive analysis techniques to understand the true cost reduction and performance improvements of lithium-ion batteries over time. The pair collected and combined several data sources measuring the price, market size, research and development, and performance of both cylindrical cells and all types of cells. 

They found that the price per energy capacity declined 13% per year between 1992 and 2016, and when the cumulative market size doubled, the cost of all types of cells decreased by 20%, while the price of cylindrical cells fell 24%. Overall, the price has declined by 97% since 1991, when Japanese firms Sony and Asahi Kasei released the first-ever commercial lithium-ion battery. 

The study adds several dimensions to the existing body of research on this topic, which often relied on limited data series and narrow measures of progress, producing inconsistent results and missing the full picture of how lithium-ion technologies have improved.

The researchers wrote, “Overall these results provide a more complete picture of the actual rate of past improvement of lithium-ion technologies and begin to suggest that faster cost improvement may be possible in the future for applications with relaxed volume and mass restrictions, as in the case of stationary energy storage.”

Ziegler and Trancik say the rate of cost improvement is in line with that of photovoltaic modules used in solar energy technologies. Lithium-ion battery cells now pack more power and energy density to fit market demand for mobile devices, electric vehicles and clean energy applications. 

In MIT’s announcement, Ziegler noted that the rate of improvement for lithium-ion technologies would be faster for certain applications if projections considered more than a single measure of performance. 

“By looking at multiple measures, you get essentially a clearer picture of the improvement rate,” he added, “and this suggests that they could maybe improve more rapidly for applications where the restrictions on mass and volume are relaxed.”

The study, funded by the nonprofit Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was published in Energy and Environmental Science last month.