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Tesla is Planning to Use Cobalt-Free Batteries for its Electric Vehicles Built in China

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【Summary】Tesla is in talks with Chinese battery maker CATL to use lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that contain no cobalt for vehicles built at the automaker’s Shanghai gigafactory. It would be the first time Tesla built a vehicle using LFP batteries instead of the typical lithium-ion type.

Eric Walz    Feb 18, 2020 9:00 AM PT
Tesla is Planning to Use Cobalt-Free Batteries for its Electric Vehicles Built in China
A Tesla Model 3 built in China at the automaker's Shanghai Gigafactory.

The lithium-ion batteries in today's electric vehicles use cobalt, a natural mineral that's found in only a few places on earth in large quantities. 

However, as demand soars the price of cobalt is increasing, many global automakers are looking for ways to reduce the amount of cobalt needed for future electric vehicle batteries, or eliminate it entirely, which is what Tesla is exploring with its Chinese battery partner Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL).

Reuters reports that Tesla is in talks with CATL to use lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) batteries that contain no cobalt for vehicles built at the automaker's Shanghai gigafactory. It would be the first time Tesla built a vehicle using LFP batteries instead of the typical lithium-ion type. 

Tesla has been in talks with CATL for over a year to supply LFP batteries that will be less costly to produce than its existing batteries by a "double-digit percent," said a person directly involved in the matter that spoke to Reuters.

Both Tesla and (CATL) declined to comment on the possible deal.

Most automakers are currently using the more common nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries for electric vehicles because of their higher energy density, which results in EVs with a longer range.

Tesla currently produces these types of batteries at its Nevada gigafactory in a joint venture with Panasonic. The NCA batteries are used for Tesla's electric vehicles, while the NMC type are used in Tesla's Powerwall energy storage devices.

In 2018, CATL overtook Panasonic as the largest lithium-ion EV battery supplier. 

tesla-battery-biz-boosts-panasonic-s-earnings.jpg

The Panasonic lithium-ion batteries currently being used in Tesla's electric vehicles contain cobalt.

CATL is also developing "cell-to-pack" (CTP) technology to boost the density and safety of its LFP batteries, the people told Reuters.

A typical EV battery is made up of thousands of individual battery cells, which are connected together in a battery module. These modules are then installed into a single large and heavy battery pack. CTP technology skips the process of battery modules and allows cells to be directly integrated into packs.

Using the CTP technology, CATL claims it can increase mass-energy density by 10 to 15 percent, improve volume utilization efficiency by 15 to 20 percent and reduce the amount of parts for battery packs by 40 percent. A CTP battery can increase the system energy density from 180 Wh/kg to more than 200 Wh/kg. 

At the cell level, CATL says the energy density has already reached 240 Wh/kg in 2019 and within five years, the Chinese battery maker aims to increase energy density to 350 Wh/kg.

For comparison, the Panasonic 18650 cells that Tesla uses in the Model S and Model X have an energy density of 254 Wh/kg. 

Tesla claims that the battery cells used in Tesla's Model 3 are of the highest energy density used in any electric car vehicle, but these batteries contain cobalt. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk wrote in a letter to shareholders in May 2018 that the company would reduce the use of cobalt to "almost nothing."

"We have achieved this by significantly reducing cobalt content per battery pack while increasing nickel content and still maintaining superior thermal stability," Tesla said in its letter to shareholders at the time.

Tesla is currently seeking regulatory approval to make longer-range Model 3s cars at its new Shanghai gigafactory. However, these vehicles would require a more powerful battery pack, which increases production costs. Using cobalt-free LFP batteries from CATL might be a more cost-effective solution.

The first Model 3's built in Shanghai were delivered to Chinese customers in January.

It's still not clear to what extent Tesla intends to use LFP batteries but the automaker has no plans to stop using its current NCA batteries, said one of the people.

Besides electric vehicle battery packs, Cobalt is essential for the smaller, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power millions of smartphones and laptops and made by companies such as Apple and Samsung.

During Tesla's earnings call on Jan 29, Musk said that the company plans to host a "Battery Day" event in April to share its future battery strategy and technology, which is likely to include CTP batteries.


resource from: Reuters

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