Tesla to use CATL’s cobalt-free batteries for China
American electric carmaker, Tesla, is said to be negotiating with Chinese battery producer, CATL, to use their ‘cheaper’ cobalt-free modules for Shanghai-built Model 3s. Tesla would be the first US automaker to use lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. Sources close to the dossier say price reductions for these batteries could be “a double-digit percentage”.
Waiting on solid-state
Currently, EV manufacturers usually make use of nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA), or nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries. That is mainly due to their higher energy density, which is critical in the current EV range race.
However, while solid-state lithium batteries or sodium batteries are being developed, manufacturers are finding other technologies. Lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries don’t use any expensive cobalt, but they offer less energy density and thus less range. CATL has been working on its so-called cell-to-pack technology to counter that hindrance.
CATL showed at last IAA Motor Show in Frankfurt its newest cell-to-pack (CTP) production technology, making it possible to increase the mass-energy density by 10 to 15% from 180 Wh/kg (watt-hour per kilogram) to more than 200 Wh/kg.
In other words, more electricity stored in the same or smaller volume in a pack of battery cells that is lighter and with more energy density. With 40% fewer components, CATL promises longer ranges at lower costs.
Rare earth metals
One of the major points of the LFP technology is that it doesn’t use any cobalt. The precious earth metal fuels discussions about the impact of batteries on the environment and, in the case of cobalt, on people in developing countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s largest cobalt suppliers; the metal is a by-product of the country’s primary copper mining sector.
While the worker’s condition is getting better, there are still numerous open mines where workers find the metal so needed for battery production by hand. The working conditions are, to say the least, not ideal. What started as an environmental issue leads to a moral one.